December 23, 2010

Album Review: The Decemberists' The King Is Dead

On their 2008 release, The Hazards Of Love, The Decemberists created an adventurous folk prog opera that listeners either loved or hated. While some lauded the Portland, OR outfit for pushing conventional style boundaries, others panned the effort as a lop-sided concept album that veered off course from the comfy balance of experimentation and indie pop heard on 2006's The Crane Wife. Their sixth studio album, The King Is Dead, finds The Decemberists playing it safer than they ever have with track after track of stripped down bluegrass folk music worthy of the NPR listener's regular rotation.

What stands out the most is that the band takes a back seat to Colin Meloy's leadership, with many tracks on The King Is Dead sounding more like solo efforts than collective works ("Rise to Me", "January Hymn," "June Hymn," "Dear Avery.") R.E.M.'s Peter Buck lends a helping hand by inserting his iconic guitar riffs into lead single, "Down By the Water" and the soon-to-be VH1 hit, "This Is Why We Fight." When it was announced Buck would be appearing here, so came the curiosity of whether The Decemberists had it in them to muster up the same level of seminal integrity as the alternative trailblazer. Instead, The King Is Dead only concentrates on one facet of The Decemberists' sound. While they wear folk well, it's somewhat frustrating to hear the nautical-loving act chartering familiar territory.

The Decemberists' The King Is Dead will be released January 18, 2011 on Capital Records.

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