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Decemberists ditch baroque for pure folk

Courtesy Capitol Records.
Courtesy Capitol Records.

“The King Is Dead” Pitchforks: 4 out of 5 The Decemberists Capitol Records

Up until 2009, it seemed as though The Decemberists, one of indie rock's longtime masterminds, could do no wrong.

That was until the band took their unique, folk-laden style to the ambitious stage of concept-filled, baroque-ridden indie pop.

While 2009's “The Hazards of Love” wasn't necessarily a terrible album, it didn't live up to the gold standard the band had previously set for themselves. That’s why the band's most recent release, “The King Is Dead,” is a welcomed breath of fresh air.

Where “The Hazards of Love” was bogged down in organs and prog-rock ballads, “The King Is Dead” sees a return to the band's former acoustic, folksy glory.

The band recorded the album at Pendarvis Farm, near Portland, Ore., in order to get the authentic grassroots feel the group desired. It wasn't so much a ploy to return to what worked in order to regain critical acclaim, but rather a way for the band to once again reinvent itself.

From the first, harmonica-heavy notes of “Don't Carry It All,” it’s clear that the band is playing with a purpose. Lead singer and lyricist Colin Meloy’s signature verbosity is still present, but it's the simplicity and general easiness of the album that gives the listener a quiet reassurance.

While the record was admittedly heavily influenced by R.E.M., it is indeed the featuring of R.E.M.'s guitarist Peter Buck and bluegrass legend Gillian Welch that really bring the Americana feel of “The King Is Dead” to life. From catchy, radio-friendly lead single “Down By The Water” to the gorgeous “June Hymn,” it is clear that The Decemberists have truly emerged from their post-“Hazards” mire. While the album is a mere 10 songs, clocking in at just over 40 minutes, it is enough to give even the most pessimistic Decemberists fan hope.

For a band known for complex arrangements and lyrics even Merriam-Webster would have had to look up the definitions to, it is the candor and decided lack of complexity found on “The King Is Dead” that makes the album an instant classic.

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