The King Is Dead by The Decemberists (2011)


The Decemberists are an acquired taste…that is for certain! They have been a refreshing addition to music in the last few years, but theirs was not a sound that was received favorably by all rock music fans. Despite their obvious musical talent and song-writing ability, Decemberists songs require you to dive into the story being told and invest emotionally into the characters. In a word, their music is “deep”. But that’s not necessarily the case anymore, as the 2011 album The King Is Dead provides fans with a more palatable and refined sound that will surely send the fan base in two opposite love-or-hate directions.

If you listen to their earlier works, it’s easy to see that The Decemberists are artsy-fartsy types who like to paint a picture/tell a story on each album. The more willing the listener is to embrace that vision, the better the songs sound. Each album has a couple of tracks that casual fans could latch onto, but in general that wasn’t the point. With that knowledge/history of The Decemberists in mind, listening to The King Is Dead provides you with a completely different experience that may signal a bit of a change in the band’s direction. Don’t get me wrong…I like the “old Decemberists”, but I’m sure this new strategy is going to appeal to a larger audience and sell more records. Case in point: in the past I normally listened to their albums online then would only purchase an mp3 or two from each record. But after one listen to The King Is Dead, I hit the BUY button immediately.

I don’t get the “story teller” vibe from this record, but I still dig the songs just as well. In fact, they have somewhat toned down the vocal aspects that annoyed me before…at times his voice just sounded a little too loud/abrasive in conjunction with the backing music. But that’s all gone now. Somehow with this record they have found the perfect blend of rock/folk/country instrumentation, seasoned with beautiful harmonies and verses that aren’t obsessed with a vision/story. Start to finish, The King Is Dead is very strong, and if it were released in a more strategic month it would probably be up for some Album of the Year awards…for real! It starts out very upbeat and engaging with ‘Don’t Carry It All’ and ‘Calamity Song’, then ‘Rise to Me’ slows it down and flexes the pedal steel. ‘This Is Why We Fight’ knocks it out of the park. ‘Rox in the Box’ sounds like it’s from an old Western film. Quite frankly, every other song is good too, and the record has a wonderful cohesive sound from beginning to end. There’s still a vision on this album, but it’s less literal and obvious this time around…it’s in the sound, not the lyrics.

If you enjoy the rockabilly genre of music, I don’t really know what else you could be looking for. There’s a lot more cool info to be found online about this record (R.E.M. influence, for example) so I strongly suggest that you dive in and check it out. The King Is Dead, and the music is alive!

music turtle recommends: BUY IT BEFORE IT WINS A GRAMMY!

What do you think about this album? Comment below


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