88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 1/26
By Sarah Hager, WKNC DJ
The Decemberists celebrated their decade of making music together with the Jan. 18 release of their sixth full-length album, The King is Dead.
The Portland, Ore. natives are known for their mix of indie, folk and rock music all packaged under the chilling yet soothing voice of Colin Meloy. The new album offers another genre blend that wasn’t prominent on former albums. The influences of Americana and blues are unmistakable during each new track.
The six-piece band plays an array of over 14 instruments, including Hammond organ, piano, violin and harmonica. In addition to the band members, guests Peter Buck of R.E.M. and indie folk star Gillian Welch also appear on the new album. Despite the mass amount of instruments and bodies, each song has deep layers of music without any part of it sounding odd or random.
“Don’t Carry It All” starts off the album with a blast from Meloy’s harmonica to immediately set the mood of The King is Dead. All the instruments complement one another. Sara Watkins harmonizes with Meloy on the choruses, which turn out to be a common tool throughout the album.
The second track picks up the tempo and adds interesting lyrics, which are an aspect of The Decemberists that any fan immediately recognizes. Their lyrics consist of clever rhymes and vocabulary-building words virtually every time.
“Down By The Water” and “Rox in Box” are truer to older Decemberists music. The first features harder cymbals, harmonies in all the right places and musical build-ups to engage the listener. This is the one you’ll sing along to first. The latter is also catchy, but has an older feel to it, laced with sharp guitar licks and accordion.
“January Hymn” reminds me of Dave Matthews Band. It’s slower with heavy reliance on acoustic guitar and voice. Lyrics like “April, all an ocean away, is this the better way to spend the day/Keeping the winter at bay” paint a scene of someone deep in thought, retracing their choices. With a shaker acting as the only percussion, the listener focuses on the lyrics and gets lost in thought.
“This Is Why We Fight” is a track that has more rock than country. The lyrics are choppier and repetitive, making a point and getting straight to it. “Come the war/come hell” paired with a chorus containing “and when we die/we will die/with our arms unbound” has a political air to it. The last 45 seconds of the song feel like listening to someone playing guitar from another room.
Overall, this album was not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. They embrace their Americana roots and run with it. This is right up the alley of fans of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The vocals, wide range of instrumentation, lyrics and genre variation will reach a wide listener range. Although it strays from the rockier center of traditional Decemberists music, The King is Dead is definitely worth a listen.
88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published every Wednesday in the print edition of Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.