CD Reviews – The Decemberists: The King is Dead
The Decemberists have, over the course of five albums and three EPs, become America’s foremost purveyors of elaborately constructed, literate, and Anglophilic folk-art-rock. That’s a very particular niche, but one that they’ve perfected working in over the years. The King is Dead, their third album since jumping to a major label, is as major a departure as a low-key folk album can be, trading in the prog aspirations of The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love for a newfound focus on American folk music and a stripped-down, no-nonsense approach to songwriting. Most of all, though, The King is Dead is The Decemberists’ most out-and-out gorgeous album. Colin Meloy’s reedy delivery and verbose lyrical flourishes are subtly refined here, making his harmonies with guest vocalist Gillian Welch on tracks like “June Hymn” send shivers down the spine. The album is perhaps most reminiscent of the band’s first record, Castaways and Cutouts, in its stripped-down focus. Unlike that album, however, The King is Dead lacks any of the quirky affectations that have made The Decemberists stand out – nothing close to a sea shanty here. But it’s hard to argue with this newfound maturity when it produces such solid songcraft.