Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Decemberists- The King Is Dead

I really started to fall in love with The Decemberists about a year ago when I decided to pick up "Hazards of Love" due to many positive reviews. I was blown away. It was a concept album full of simple beauty and clever lyrics. Typically, the kind of music I like is much more complex and fits firmly into the progressive rock genre. Although they display certain characteristics of progressive rock at times, I don't think that The Decemberists could really be considered a progressive rock band. They are more Indie/Folk. But, this is definitely not a criticism. In fact, I'm really glad that "Hazards of Love" allowed me to expand my musical horizons and take me out of the prog box that I was putting myself into. I realized that music doesn't have to be incredibly intricate and complicated in order to be good. Music can be beautiful when stripped down and focused on the melody and lyrics.

Which leads me to the review for "The King Is Dead." I will admit, at first I was a little disappointed when I heard the album. The more progressive elements I enjoyed from "Hazards of Love" seemed completely absent. If possible, The Decemberists stipped down their sound even further to be even more simplistic. What appealed to me with "The Hazards of Love" was the concept and storytelling, and the new album seemed to be just a collection of songs. But, after repeatedly listening to the album, its beauty has been unfolded to me and I consider it to be a really good album. It doesn't quite reach the heights of "The Hazards of Love" or even "The Crane Wife" but there is a simple beauty here that I can't deny.

There is an interesting mix here between folk and country that is really pleasing to listen to. There is plenty of acoustic guitar, slide guitar, harmonica and even fiddle. At the center is the distinctive voice of Colin Meloy. I really like his voice. It is unlike any other voice I've heard and really gives The Decemberists an unmistakable sound. The lyrics are really interesting, each song is like a poem being delivered by an expert storyteller. The music, while not overly complex, really compliments the lyrics well. There is enough instrumentation on display that I'm never bored. The sound quality is really good and the instruments sound really crisp and clear to my ears.

So, what we have here is a collection of poetry set in a folk/country setting. There are moments throughout the album that are beautiful. I love "January Hymn," the simple arrangement with beautiful singing is perfect and really creates a perfect mood and feel. I just can't help but have a tear come to my ear at the beauty created here. "Dear Avery" is another beautiful track that has an almost haunting feel. The mixture of male and female vocals is perfect here and gives me goosebumps. Another favorite is "This Is Why We Fight" which is a little more upbeat, but the music really combines to create something special with a great sing-along chorus.

I love this album because it has allowed me to look at music in a completely new way. "The Hazards of Love" started this changing view, but "The King Is Dead" really solidifies it. Music does not have to be complex and played by virtuosic players to be good. A good songwriter can create beauty out of simplicity. The way that the instruments combine, the unique way the lyrics are written, and the passion from the musicians involved really create something special and beautiful. Once the beauty of this album became apparent to me on about my third listen, I couldn't help but tear up and feel that my whole listening experience has changed. This is a wonderful collection of beautifully written and played music. I am embarrassed that I almost dismissed this as an average country album. It is much more than that. I recommend it to all.

Rating: 7/10

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