The Decemberists’ last album Hazards of Love certainly wasn’t a departure from their title as one of indie-rock’s most diverse and dense-sounding bands, but the album’s concept (a confusing tale of fairies and villains) did lean away from the band’s usual habit of superb storytelling and their ability to convey their complex poetry across to the listener.
On their newest album The King is Dead, guitarist, lead singer and songwriter
Colin Meloy returned to form as one of best songwriters in contemporary rock.
In the song “June Hymn,” a ballad depicting the beginning of summer, imagery beams from lines such as “hear the hymn to welcome in the day/heralding a summer’s early sway” and “pegging clothing on the line/training jasmine how to vine.”
Howling harmonica (which is presented beautifully on most of the album) kicks open the first track “Don’t Carry It All” which sounds almost like a proclamation with an opening line of “Here we come to a turning of the season.” This is also the first of three tunes that feature R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who incorporates the mandolin which he made famous on the R.E.M. standard “Losing My Religion” and the clingy sound of a Rickenbacker guitar.
Buck’s third appearance on the album is also the album’s first single “Down By The Water,” a harrowing rock song cemented with country twang thanks to guest
background vocalist Gillian Welch. The unexpected cameo by the Grammy winner gave the album what it needed: a powerful mid-tempo rocker that contrasted against the folk-pop ballads.
The Wilco-esque “Rise to Me” and the folk-pop hoedown of “All Arise!” make this a diverse album with hints of indie-folk and country with lyrics that are optimistic and promising.
As the band’s sixth studio effort, The King is Deadoutshines them all in their young careers. From guest spots and vivid lyrics to the band’s return to their roots embedded in rock, the album is as good as any they have released and possibly the
best of the year.