A lot of great releases this week and upcoming weeks, so let's jump right back into the reviews with my most anticipated release for this year so far.
The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Capitol Records, 2011)
I've been looking forward to The King Is Dead pretty much since I finished listening to 2009's sprawling Euro-folk/rock epic, The Hazards Of Love. I was interested with how they would follow that up, and the answer is, with a stripped down, simplified collection of alt-Americana songs.
The songs are good. They are well written for the most part (some of the lyrics on "Rox In The Box" are questionable to me), and well performed. Strong Americana influence shines through, mainly in the harmonica and guitar parts that are spread throughout the album, as well as the banjo riffs that decorate many of the songs. Songs like the Dylanesque "June Hymn" and "Calamity Song" (which reminds me of Muswell Hillbillies-era Kinks) display a very midwestern-centric approach that's new to the band.
And that's the bad thing about the album. It doesn't sound like The Decemberists. The songs are great, but they just aren't the sound I had expected to hear by this point. I hate saying that, I feel like I'm saying they can't write songs that aren't the same kind they used to write. But after developing a sound heavily steeped in European folk, going country/western just doesn't fit. I enjoy listening to it, but it might as well have been a Tarkio album (Meloy's pre-Decemberists band) or a solo effort by Meloy.
Let me stress that I do mean the songs are well written and well performed. Just not in a genre that fits with the band. I still love the band, and I would recommend this album to other people (and, in fact, I already have). But I do hope on their next album they go back to what they do best.