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The Decemberists - The King Is Dead CD (album) cover

THE KING IS DEAD

The Decemberists

 

Prog Folk

2.91 | 83 ratings

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kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars Even at their most musically ambitious, the DECEMBERISTS have remained primarily a folk rock indie band. While their prior 3 albums blended a compelling progressive penchant into this mix, they never came close to forgetting their debt to British, Irish, and, indeed, American roots music. Going back further, their "Castaways and Cutouts" was almost entirely of this ilk, and the closest in style to "The King is Dead" from this group's growing body of work. Yet it is also utterly different from that early disk in mood, conviction and group dynamics, which it actually possesses this time around..

While the pendulum has admittedly swung to rural USA, what makes "The King is Dead" so fascinating is that is the work of an American band sounding like an Anglo band sounding like an American band. The sublime "Don't Carry it All" is a ringer for LINDISFARNE circa "Dingley Dell", while "Rox in the Box" picks up where the WATERBOYS' classic "Room to Roam" left off, down to the excerpts from "Raggle Taggle Gypsy". Sure, the stylish and incisive "Down by the Water" could pass for a more enthusiastic REM, but its accordion deployment suggests worship of the OYSTERBAND and even THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG, both from the elite of outlaw UK/Irish celtic rock. I hasten to add that it's all spun through Meloy's unique vision into a new American paradigm of folk rock, one with a Masters in Communication rather than a C-average in high school.

Those who accuse the DECEMBERISTS of progressive treason are not without justification, but, as I said, they've done this all before here and there, never woven into anything like the brocade here before us. Whereas in prior releases the diminutive giants "Eli the Barrow Boy" or "On the Bus Mall" squeezed like Napoleon between the progressive suites, here we have a chorus of peers, birds of a feather sweetly imparting their typically weighty insights, making it more challenging than ever to pick a few highlights. Still, "January Hymn" and "June Hymn" are a bit more precocious than the less ecclesiastical numbers, and "this is Why We Fight" is perhaps the band's sharpest commentary both musically and lyrically to date, which is saying something, saying a lot.

With an ever more imposing canon and a willingness to forge fashion rather than follow it, the DECEMBERISTS have all but assured that they, like the proverbial king, will survive themselves. Their best overall effort to date.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |

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