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The Decemberists – The King is Dead

Sarah Tyler


On the initial listen of this band they undergo the natural process of categorising, and in this case as another modern take on traditional folk music, wistful lyrics concerning nature, mundane days then contrasting them with hopes and dreams. A generic set up of ‘ye olde’ instrumental sounds – pedal steel guitar, violin, acoustic guitar with a bit of harmonica and accordion thrown in, certainty appealing but nothing particularly striking.

However as the album progresses so does the appearance of this five piece’s talent and originality. The LA band are known for their affiliation for old English traditions, native analogies and hidden philosophical meaning which is clearly shown in the lyrics, especially track three ‘Rise to me’ (after a few listens of course!) Their concerns of “big mountains”, “wide rivers” and an “ancient pull” are compared to human features, love and the old cliché loss. This is the general feeling of the album as a whole – that and something a little bluesy with a simply musical metre to sway to. Reflective of checked shirts, straw hats and homemade lemonade in sunny fields as far as mental imagery goes. However in complete contrast track nine ‘This is why we fight’ is an unmistakeable highlight, more reminiscent of earlier material whilst reflecting growing maturity as a band.

The Decemberists, renowned for cross genres have embedded their folk roots into an indie top ten potential hit, it is encapsulating and not easily forgotten. Colin Moley’s voice is particularly striking, reeking of power and angst then quavering with passion, all within the space of a chorus. It holds the kind of repetitiveness that sits happily on the membrane all day. Moley self admittedly “misses the epicness of the other albums” but as a sixth album for the well experience and travelled musicians, this 10 track change of direction captures a story of life lessons and analogies of human emotions through nature – a true message of the folk idiom.

It could be argued that they should have stayed entirely faithful to the growing art of folk rock, which they do so well and clearly contributed to its creeping popularity. However selling a chart significant 94,000 within the first week of release their noticeable but by no means off-putting adaptation in style must be positive, or they have an avid state size cult following!