After not the greatest reception of their last album, The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists have made their way back to the classic sound of their folk rock. This time around they have shifted ever-so-slightly to a larger influence of bluesy, Americana tones. As this is their seventh full-length release, The Decemberists are far from amateurs.
The King is Dead begins with “Don’t Carry it All,” which is an immediate stomper. It starts as though the beginning of an epic novel- slowly growing more intricate and detailed, without becoming too heavy at the end. Once again the listener is treated to the superb writing that this band brings to its albums. Blazing harmonica and the strikingly unique and bittersweet vocals of lead singer Colin Meloy combine with string work and methodic percussion to create this enjoyable, albeit not groundbreaking, sound for the first song. The group moves right along to “Calamity Song,” which picks up the pace. Fierce guitar strumming and refined howling in the chorus adds a touch of wildness to the album before they tone it down for “Rise to Me.” On this number, steel pedal guitar and vocal harmonies in addition to harmonica once again shape it to be the most classically blues sounding song of the album thus far.
As on the preceding album and those before it, The Decemberists have always been nothing short of excellent storytellers and songwriters, if one can consider those two different things. On “Rox in the Box,” you get brilliant lines such as “We all do what we can/ we endure our fellow man.” While on the two complimentary songs “January Hymn,” and “June Hymn,” Meloy takes you on an imagery filled journey through winter and summer, two drastically different seasons. These songs are similar in their simplicity, but different in the images they create.
It is really hard to find a song that is lacking in good qualities on this album; I didn’t find any. With their outstanding songwriting in hand, the album heads towards its finish with “This is Why We Fight.” Like the first track, this one is laced with several instruments and lyrical strengths. During the chorus Meloy bites the endings of his words, giving edginess to the song. “Dear Avery” then rounds off the album slowly and softly, more steel guitar ending the album as it began: bluesy.
While this is an excellent effort from The Decemberists, it isn’t a stretch. Simple blues elements added an interesting spin, but it seems as though the group was discouraged from their last album to stray from their classic sound too much. If anything, the album artwork is a testament to my feelings towards this work; it’s really pretty, and I like it a lot, but it’s not mind blowing. It would have been nice to see where they could go, but I’m far from complaining.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Down-By-The-Water-1.mp3]
Download: The Decemberists – Down By The Water [MP3]