Record review: The Decemberists, The King Is Dead

the decemberists

The Decemberists continue their chameleon presence in the music world with their sixth record, an exercise in country folk narrative. The Portland-born band have always had a penchant for the pace and acoustics of country music, and their sound fits perfectly into the simplicity of the ten tracks The King Is Dead comprises.

The instrumentation is a step back to simplicity after last year’s overwhelmingly operatic Hazards Of Love. Guitars and vocals being the main attraction, with classic folk instruments like harmonica making cameos. Meloy’s lyrics have taken a step into the metaphorical, with straight stories few and far between. Instead there’s Rox In The Box calling the infinite question ‘what were you meant for?’; its sinister intonation working paradoxically with bopping accordion and violin. January Hymn is calming in its reminiscent sentiments of ‘the fleeting beating of hearts’, to be joined later by June Hymn’s sunshine in a song.

The sweetness is sliced by the outstanding Down By The Water, instantly captivating with its piercing harmonica, the song rollicks and rolls with a duetting, but never competing, Meloy and Gillian Welch. The former’s voice is gorgeously emotive throughout the record with his quavering timbre gurgling on the a cappella opening of All Arise!, to his comforting but alert delivery on This Is Why We Fight.

The Decemberists have displayed long tales to us before from star-crossed lovers (We Both Go Down Together), vengeance driven sons (Mariner’s Revenge Song). By comparison, The King Is Dead is a collection of short stories, sweet and sharp with simplicity its strong suit.

You can currently stream The King Is Dead here:

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