Jan 192011
Authors: Michael Elizabeth Sakas

“Here we come to a turning of the season,” yelps Colin Meloy on the opening track to “The King is Dead,” the Decemberists’ sixth studio album.
With pounding percussion and an accompanying harmonica, the turning Meloy could be singing about is that of the Decemberists’ 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, “The Crane Wife,” came a darker side of the band with 2009’s follow-up “Hazards of Love.” A “rock opera” that was meant to tell the “tale 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.”

Listeners couldn’t help but to get a little … lost? Now, with a return to picturesque lyrics and pretty melodies, “The King is Dead” will remind us what this band is really about.

At least a little bit. The Decemberist elements are there — just simpler. The simplicity is what makes it enjoyable though, and after “Hazards” it might be needed.

Their pretty lyrics are packed with metaphorical meaning. In “Rise to Me,” Meloy slowly yells, “Big mountain, wide river, there’s an ancient pull. These tree trunks, these stream beds, leave our bellies full.”

The country twang this album carries throughout most of its tracks is impossible to ignore. Most apparent is “All Arise,” 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 Meloy’s unique voice keeps the country influence in its place.

Their influence from REM is also recognizable, especially in the tune “Calamity Song.”

Unlike “Crane Wife” and “Hazards,” “The King is Dead” is not based on a specific event or story. Each track moves into the other without the aid of plot or reason, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say.

And I say it’s worthy of being heard.

Music reviewer Michael Elizabeth Sakas can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:03 pm

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