The King Is Dead (Capitol)
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
The DecemberistsThe King Is Dead (Capitol)
Standing at the junction of folk and indie rock, the Decemberists have grown a career by plying what's old into new, effectively employing hoary tricks of the roots trade – song cycles, murder ballads, and folk tales – in garnering worship for The Crane Wife and 2009's The Hazards of Love. Changing course with sixth LP The King Is Dead, frontman Colin Meloy and company demonstrate such a deep entrenchment in the nexus of folk that the Portland, Ore., fivepiece can now tackle any of its subgenres' hybrids with confidence. Meloy casts The King from British folk into pure Americana rock and Southern Gothic with disarming ease. He might be the best wordsmith of his age, unequivocally mastering songwriting in modern times. And God, how he composes a song, the kind that allows Gillian Welch – present on most of the 10 tracks – to own it as much as he does. He rhymes "enzymes" with "fault lines" in the cautionary "Don't Carry It All," effortlessly tossing off sweet, lingering sentiments like "Let every vessel pitching hard to starboard/Lay its head on summer's freckled knees." Hinting at the traditional "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" comes "Rox in the Box," while "All Arise!" has a vague "Honky Tonk Women" vibe, but each of The King's offerings is carved artwork: "This Is Why We Fight," "All Arise!," and the exuberant "Calamity." On every album, Meloy delivers one song that floods the senses. Here it's "Down by the Water," a full-band effort with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck in tow. It's a lavish aural luxury worn by Meloy, his limited range worked to its finest by the glorious Welch chiming in, the two matched like a 21st century Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.