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D, The Decemberists

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Emily (Editor, blogger, callipygian wunderkind) advised me to try to keep it popular, wisely surmising that more mainstream acts would probably get more hits for this fledgling music site. I understand this principal, but I conundrum forms. You see, I have a secret: I have no idea what’s “popular”. Music for me has always been an internal realm. A expedition in sifting soil, intent to unearth the aureate hoard beneath our feet . I don’t get turned on to music by friends or relatives. I don’t have the pulse of what most people are listening to. I don’t listen to commercial radio. I don’t watch MTV (do people make music videos anymore?). I am very much not “with it”. If I am listening to something that’s fairly well known, it’s most likely that I have careened into it unintentionally.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly haughty musicalist. I don’t read Pitchfork. I don’t dissemble indie bands. I didn’t know who The Black Keys were until the Grammy. I was well passed Neon Bible when I heard of the Arcade Fire. Oxford Comma had come, gone and done damage when I finally got Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut. I’m not certain who Florence is or what her Machine does. I know she sounds like Kate Bush.

(This is a nice way to start an introduction. Highlight just how uncultured I am).

What I do know is that the music I like becomes an obsession and the music I hate I need to deconstruct to understand it. I know that I’m a pretty loyal fan, willing to support artists in all the ways that matter (i.e monetarily) and if you’re anything like me (i.e a nerd) you’re probably the same way.

Now you might not enjoy what I have to say and that’s okay. You might think I’m too conciliatory, and you’re probably right. You might think I’m too negative, and you’re also probably right. You might not enjoy my point of view or you might see my opinion as worthless. Either way, I hope I can get you thinking about music. Whether it’s to bolster previously held convictions, challenge your ideas or become a foundation for a new perspective on the medium you enjoy, I want to give you pause when you’re listening to the latest Drake track on your smartphone.

Or maybe just help you kill some times while you’re playing Farmville. Anyway, my name is Benel Germosen and this is what’s playing in my ear buds right now…

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The newest album by the Portland, Oregon-based The Decemberists, is a lot of what fans have loved from the band’s previous five albums: Bombastic arrangement, a lush panorama of sound and quirky lyrics – with one noticeable difference: There’s a lot less of it.

Those of you familiar from the unabashed grandiosity of their last effort, The Hazards of Love, will find King a welcome retreat into simplicity. Stripping down the pomp from the seven-piece band, bandleader (and gentlemen scholar) Colin Meloy crafts an album of R.E.M meets Heartland era Neil Young tunes that consist of winsome odes, melodious ballads and rock-sway modern alternative tune that sounds more Loretta Lynn than Neutral Milk Hotel.

Eschewing the psudeo-metal riff and operatic concepts, The Decemberists concoct 3 to 5 minute tracks about war (Why We Fight), loss (Dear Avery) and comedic disaster (Calamity Song) with a rustic down-home charm that is as captivating as it is inauthentic. Recorded in a barn outside of Portland, the band is joined by R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck for three tracks (Calamity Song, Down By The Water, and Don’t Carry it All) and Gillian Welch for seven (All Arise, Rise To Me, Don’t Carry It All, Rox in a Box, June Hymn, Dear Avery, and Down By The Water) but even they can’t inject a little bit of country chaos into the ‘cemberists well-crafted indie structure. The music tries to call back to late sixties-early seventies Midwestern folk but sounds too polished to be received. Arrangement of drums, guitar and pedal steel sound too crisp. The playing is just too good to feel like an honest extension of the genre. It gets down to form, but loses some of the countrified flavor that made other exercises in the genre (like fellow Oregonians Blitizen Trapper) so much more earnest.

Meloy, a suitable vocal delivery system, croons with a tender librarian-meets-trubedor tenor, but meets the music halfway with a restrain delivery. One place Meloy isn’t shy about is his sizable vocabulary. Meloy is known for throwing down ten dollar words, so don’t be surprise when “panoply” and “Andalusian” fly over your head.

Despite the band’s furtive lack of emotional and sonic guts on display, this album doesn’t suffer too much from its rustic, pastoral nature. It’s not weigh down much by its musical luster and serves as a really great addition to the Decemberists discography. Breezy tracks like “January Hymn” offer us a flowery view of a world with hooky chrouses, viola strings and pretty words. “Is there a better way to spend the day?” Meloy intones.

No, I don’t think there is.

Written by Benel



One thought on “The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

  1. I love it! Especially your word choice and sentence flow. Well written! I’m inspired as a writer. 🙂

    Posted by guitarist2013 | March 16, 2011, 3:07 pm

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