â€œHere we come to a turning of the season,â€ yelps Colin Meloy on the opening track to â€œThe King is Dead,â€ the Decemberistsâ€™ sixth studio album.
With pounding percussion and an accompanying harmonica, the turning Meloy could be singing about is that of the Decemberistsâ€™ sound. Not turning away, but turning back to a familiar road of fun-folk-rock that fans of the band have sorely missed.
Along with the critical acclaim of their 2006 major label release, â€œThe Crane Wife,â€ came a darker side of the band with 2009â€™s follow-up â€œHazards of Love.â€ A â€œrock operaâ€ that was meant to tell the â€œtale of a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, William; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake.â€
Listeners couldnâ€™t help but to get a little â€¦ lost? Now, with a return to picturesque lyrics and pretty melodies, â€œThe King is Deadâ€ will remind us what this band is really about.
At least a little bit. The Decemberist elements are there â€” just simpler. The simplicity is what makes it enjoyable though, and after â€œHazardsâ€ it might be needed.
Their pretty lyrics are packed with metaphorical meaning. In â€œRise to Me,â€ Meloy slowly yells, â€œBig mountain, wide river, thereâ€™s an ancient pull. These tree trunks, these stream beds, leave our bellies full.â€
The country twang this album carries throughout most of its tracks is impossible to ignore. Most apparent is â€œAll Arise,â€ a tune that could be heard in the honkiest of honkey-tonk bars. Even the piano has an old-time tinkle sound to it. Thankfully Meloyâ€™s unique voice keeps the country influence in its place.
Their influence from REM is also recognizable, especially in the tune â€œCalamity Song.â€
Unlike â€œCrane Wifeâ€ and â€œHazards,â€ â€œThe King is Deadâ€ is not based on a specific event or story. Each track moves into the other without the aid of plot or reason, but that doesnâ€™t mean it has nothing to say.
And I say itâ€™s worthy of being heard.
Music reviewer Michael Elizabeth Sakas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.