Review of the week: The Decemberists: The King Is Dead

The Decemberists
Cover of The Decemberists

Recently I have been reminiscing about R.E.M and their early days.  Well lo and behold, The Decemberists give me a good reason to keep R.E.M. in mind in literal fashion.  “The King Is Dead” is set to be released on January 18th, 2011.

This album is a great, enjoyable record taking you down country roads and open fields.  It was recorded in a barn near Portland, Oregon.  The music is deeply influenced by where it was recorded.  There are many enjoyable harmonies on most of the songs which are provided by the lead singer, Colin Meloy and the wonderfully talented Gillian Welch.  (Do some research on this talented woman, begin at her website: http://gillianwelch.com/ .

Another guest on this record is Peter Buck, the lead guitarist of R.E.M.  His influence is great indeed and adds a wonderful texture to the three songs he contributes to which are: “Don’t Carry It All”, “Calamity Song”, and “Down by the Water”.  Instead of this album “sounding like” its influences, it really is an homage to the roots of country/folk music.  There is the jangle pop sound fans of The Decemberists are used to but there is a new direction they are taking and I hope they keep down this path of country/folk/jangle pop because it is magical to the ears.

Some favorite songs of mine off the album are:

“Don’t Carry It All”: Bright beginning to the record.  The harmonies between Meloy and Welch are just simply wonderful and perfect.  Favorite lyric: “a neighbors blessed burden within reason/ becomes a burden born of all and one”

“Calamity Song”: This has the most recognizable Peter Buck influence on the entire record.  Upon first listen you will hear a direct R.E.M. guitar lick which I believe is from “7 Chinese Brothers”.  This song is another bright, country affair.

“January Hymn”: an ode to the month of January and actually makes winter seem bearable. (I happen to loath winter which is one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco!) This is Meloy on his own. Favorite lyric: “Hail the winter days after dark/ wandering the gray memorial park/ a fleeting beating of hearts”

“Down By The Water”: This is the first single off the record and is full of good old fashioned teen angst.  There is the obvious influence of Bruce Springsteen (especially in the harmonica playing).  This confirms all the feeling and frustrations of a bored teenager.

The last two songs on the album, “This Is Why We Fight” and “Dear Avery” are darker in tone and feel than the rest of the album.  “This is Why..” is about war and its repetitive nature thus the repetitive nature of the lyrics.  At the end of this song, there is a wonderful moment with Gillian Welch singing into one mic and you can hear the rain in the background.  This moment leads directly into the last song, “Dear Avery”.  Is this a song about the passing of Avery or his absence?  The very end of the record is just music that gives the listener hope but with the lingering of a “ghost” of loss.

You can listen to this album in its entirety or song by song on NPR’s website: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/03/132436422/first-listen-the-decemberists-the-king-is-dead#playlist

A definite must have for lovers of good old fashioned country/folk/rock music.

The Decemberists main website: http://www.decemberists.com/

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