The Decemberists,
The King is Dead
(Capitol, 2011)

The Decemberists are one of the few bands that never cease to impress. The King is Dead is no exception; many consider this album to be one of their best yet. While their previous albums had been more British folk tunes than anything else, their newest release takes the band in a slightly different direction. Just as all of their albums are, this work is meant to be listened to from start to finish; very few songs will really stick out if listened to individually.

From the opening track, titled "Don't Carry It All," to the aptly conclusive "Dear Avery," The King is Dead is a solid album that not only draws in new admirers but also remains loyal to the original fans of the band. I, personally, have been an avid fan of The Decemberists since I first heard them about seven years ago, and I cannot begin to count the number of times I listened to their debut album Castaways & Cutouts in the summer of 2004. Once I first heard their 2005 album Picaresque, I was completely hooked on the band. This being said, I consider The King is Dead one of their best overall works, and I consider myself a bit of a purist. The maturation of the group is on display here, as it is a fully complete album, whereas their earlier albums had flawed track arrangement. This is not the case here; the organization of the tracks is impeccable, with no obvious weak spots.

I am by no means alone in my praise of this new release, with dozens of critics and well as millions of fans lauding it endlessly. The King is Dead marks the first time a Decemberists' album has made it to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, which also shows the general public's last remaining bit of appreciation for quality music. The relatively new sound demonstrated by the band on this particular album is due in part to appearances made by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. The three songs he is featured on -- "Don't Carry It All," "Down By the Water" and "Calamity Song" -- are considered three of the strongest recordings on the album, with my personal favorite track being "Don't Carry It All."

Every track offers something unique; even the most bland song, "This is Why We Fight" (which is still a fine piece), contains about a minute of folksy blues jamming at the conclusion. This short bit of roots music shows, if nothing else, how the band is trying to expand their musical limitations. That minute alone is symbolic of the message The King is Dead is attempting to send, and that message is that The Decemberists are not a one-dimensional band.

music review by
Bryan Frantz

23 April 2011

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