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Monday, January 17th, 2011

Down By The Water

Review of The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead

Photo By Autumn de WildeAutumn de WildeIt’s odd to think that a band’s most direct and tuneful album might turn out to be its most divisive, but were you to survey a cross-section of Decemberists fans, it’s unlikely that “convention” would come up as what they love most about the Portland band. After all, this is a band who made their name with sea shanties, drama club videos, multi-part prog-rock epics and full-blown rock operas – hardly the standard template for pop music success, and yet it’s served the band well as they’ve built progressively their eccentricities up, using their folk roots and pop smarts as mortar, culminating in 2009’s grandiose The Hazards Of Love.

So with nowhere further to go on that trip, it was inevitable that they’d dial it back some for their next effort but the degree to which The King Is Dead retreats is pretty remarkable. You’d have to go back as far as their 2001 debut EP 5 Songs to find a collection of songs as countrified, direct and simply adorned as these, and even then Colin Meloy’s penchant for period-costume characters and storytelling sets the two bookends of their career (thus far) apart. While he remains an erudite and wordy lyricist, his quirkier narrative inclinations take a step back to allow the band’s musicianship and songcraft carry the day. And start to finish, this is probably The Decemberists’ most tasteful and accomplished record to date, given extra weight from vocal contributions by Gillian Welch and notable for the absence of the one or two compositional experiments that seemed mandatory on past efforts.

For most other bands, such a record would be an unqualified high-water mark but for The Decemberists it’s enough of a departure that the portion of their audience who love them for their idiosyncrasies might find it puzzling and/or disappointing – it’s not a perspective I necessarily agree with as the merits of The King Is Dead, irrespective of the rest of their catalog, are myriad, but it’s an understandable one. But for others who might have been turned off by the band’s indulgences in the past, it could be just the record they’ve been waiting for. Assuming that one waits for records from bands they’ve already been turned off of.

NPR, Billboard, The Wall Street Journal and MusicOmh have interviews with the band, whose record is out tomorrow and whose tour for the record commences next week – look for them at The Sound Academy in Toronto on February 1.

MP3: The Decemberists – “Down By The Water”

S. Carey chats with The AV Club and discusses his new video with Spin.

Video: S. Carey – “In The Dirt”

Mark Olson talks to NOW and Gary Louris to Spinner about the The Jayhawks reunion, which kicks off its tour tomorrow night at The Phoenix – the same day their deluxe reissues of Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass come out.

Daytrotter serves up a session with Iron & Wine, whose new record Kiss Each Other Clean is out next week.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with Old 97s.

NYC Taper is sharing a recording of the “Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500” at Maxwell’s in New Jersey from last week.

There’s a new video from Buffalo Tom’s forthcoming record Skins, due out February 15.

Video: Buffalo Tom – “Down”

Peter Buck tells NME he thinks quite highly of R.E.M.’s new record Collapse Into Now; the world will judge when it comes out on March 8 (or a couple weeks earlier when it leaks).

The Denver Post and Denver Westword have interviews with Liz Phair.

Parts & Labor are sharing the MP3 for the title track from their new record Constant Future, due out March 8.

MP3: Parts & Labor – “Constant Future”

Undercover discovers the statute of limitations on talking smack about former bandmates is up, as evidenced by this interview with Paul Banks of Interpol. They’re at The Sound Academy on February 15.

Washington City Paper recalls the heyday of The Dismemberment Plan.

Dave Gedge of The Wedding Present takes to The Guardian to offer The Flaming Lips some advice on how to successfully release a single a month for a year – after all, they did just that back in 1992 and included a b-side for each, no less. Of course, they didn’t write a song meant to be played on four iPhones simultaneously… The Lips have them beat there.

And oh yeah, Archers Of Loaf got back together for the first time in over a decade in Carrboro, North Carolina on Saturday night and it doesn’t feel like a one-off. If this is why we shouldn’t expect a new Crooked Fingers record before the end of the year, well, that’s okay then.

By : Frank Yang at 8:31 am
Category: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post2 Responses.
  1. Wm. says:

    Peter Buck thinks the world will judge the new record when it comes out 08 March. I think that even if it’s amazing the world will yawn. It’s been a long time since R.E.M. has been a part of the public’s cultural consciousness. I can’t say they’ve done anything as far as long players go that has excited me since Document, although legions swear by Automatic for the People and I respect that.

    So happy to see the Archers are back at it, even if just for a night. All the Nations Airports still gets regular airplay in my house.

    Keep up the good work, Frank. Yours is the first blog I read every morning with my coffee.

  2. Andy G says:

    I’m a bit late to the party here, but I was really left numb by the Decemberists album. It just sounded like something that a hundred current bands could have produced. When I listen to them, I want to hear something that ONLY THEY could have done. I dunno…I don’t mind it…it’s not BAD…it’s just not distinctive and they are a band I want to be extremely distinctive. Oh well…