Theatrical. That is the word that will always leap immediately into my mind when someone brings up The Decemberists. After all, you're talking about a band whose somewhat legendary stage shows have included everything from breaking the audience into sections for call and response sing-alongs, full dramatizations of their epic story “The Mariner's Revenge Song,” (if memory serves it involves a man being "eaten" by a cardboard cut-out of a whale), and light saber battles! The band even has a song entitled “I Was Meant for the Stage.”
It seems to me that the word I most always heard assigned to The Decemberists when I first began to hear about them was “literate.” It seems that for awhile quite a number of bands were being described as “literate,” when “well read,” and “well spoken” would have served them far better. For no band more than The Decemberists is this true. With each song I heard I became more and more convinced that Colin Meloy must be putting his English degree to better use than anyone else in America these days — and I'm not entirely sure that he has an English degree! The aforementioned theatricality is what sells it though. Colin Meloy not only has the ability to write a good story, but he has the know how to tell a good story. The band of multi-instrumentalists have always shaped these stories with care, using every weapon in their arsenal in a manner surprisingly spare for a group with so many tricks up their sleeves.
The King is Dead continues the band's tradition of telling good stories in interesting ways, but they seem to be tapping into a love of Americana in a way they never have. Most of the songs here seem to find the most satisfying way in which a country song can marry into a folk song. It probably helps that they have Gillian Welch along for seven tracks on the album, as she is a master at working within that space. R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck is also along for the ride, and there are more than a few moments here that sound a great deal like R.E.M during their heyday. In fact, perhaps the most noticeable shift in The Decemberists telling their good stories in interesting ways has much to do with the choice in collaborators, and that's the tighter focus of the songs. The rocking songs feel more fraught with danger, the slower songs feel more poignant, and the conclusion will almost surely leave you convinced that The King is Dead was one seriously enthralling show.
-- Marion Hodges, KCRW Music Host
The King is Dead will be on demand from January 10 through February 8, 2011.
Artist website: http://www.decemberists.com
1. Don't Carry It All
2. Calamity Song
3. Rise To Me
4. Rox In the Box
5. January Hymn
6. Down By The Water
7. All Arise!
8. June Hymn
9. This Is Why We Fight
10. Dear Avery