The Decemberists have forged upon a fairly steady course for the past decade. The relaxed folksy feel and the distinct nerd-tone of Colin Meloy usually make their music instantly recognizable -- that is unless you mistake it for Ben Gibbard of Death Cab singing a Tom Petty B-side. But all quasi-parallels aside‚ The King is Dead does find the Northwest indie-mellowers trying out some new tangents.
The album opens with "Don't Carry it All" and the familiar telltales are all over this track: simple‚ catchy‚ and a gentle folk-pop vibe that hints at something hidden deeper. It's good‚ but my initial complaint was that as usual‚ the whole album would sound the same way -- ironically‚ my main gripe ended up being that they strayed too far from home. "Calamity Music" could have and should have been a barn-stomper‚ but instead it gets lost in a benign melody‚ and lyrics that sound like they were taken from hipster graffiti on a coffee-shop bathroom wall: "All that remains is the arms of the angels" or "Will we gather to conjure the rain now."
Things get catchy far too late in the album‚ and only true devotees or confused noobs will traverse past the half-hour or so of saturated sonic beige. Things finally click on "June Hymn" -- it's simple without being obnoxious‚ and has a chorus that lingers. "This is Why We Fight" is a mellower version of ideas Midnight Oil already played out 25 years ago‚ but does fade into a front-porch‚ rain-storm banjo ditty. It's somewhat hidden and probably meant to be forgotten‚ but there's an honest sincerity in the moment that unfortunately is lacking on the rest of the album.
"Dear Avery" closes out The King into an instrumental fade that would seem much stronger if Tweedy and the Wilco boys hadn't perfected the move years ago. I'd usually harp on myself for using this many comparisons in one review‚ but their easy and instant detections scream for recognition. A spot at #1 on the Billboard charts either hints at justification or else just a slow February for new releases. Either way‚ the band shouldn't take it as a sign that their band is heading on the right path -- for the sake of the music they need to return to sounding like themselves.