Disclaimer: This review is not meant for someone who is already very knowledgeable about The Decemberists. I am not, so my assessment of their new album, "The King Is Dead", is very pure. The album got some good reviews and has been in iTunes' top 10 since it was released last week. Good enough for me! We're not seeing Kanye West and Michael Jackson type releases right now, so it's a nice time to try something new.
I had read that Peter Buck of R.E.M. contributed to this album, and several of the songs will sound very familiar to fans of that band, particularly from the "Reckoning" and "Life's Rich Pageant" era. There are a few songs, however, that have a little more twang to them, while still others have the sound of Irish folk music. That probably makes it sound like the music is all over the place, but there's a common thread to the sound throughout.
This is not the kind of album where the songs really jump out at you, and that is actually something I noticed about it after I had listened through a few times. It is quiet and restrained rather than loud or rushed, and a little homework on the band revealed that achieving that feel was somewhat of a challenge for them. Apparently on their previous albums they have included long epics of songs, stretching 10 to almost 20 minutes in some cases. The longest song on "The King Is Dead" is 5 ½ minutes, which felt very constrained to them since they are accustomed to taking as much time as they needed. Hats off to them for getting it right.
The songs I liked best were "This Is Why We Fight" and "Rox In the Box", both with a slightly quicker tempo than some of the others. I find it funny that of the ten songs on the album one is called "January Hymn" and another is "June Hymn". Combined with the band's name, one has to wonder if they have some sort of preoccupation with months?
Here is a little teaser for the song "Down By the Water"- I couldn't find a full length video from this album, but this will give you a taste. Enjoy!