It would have been easy to write off The Decemberists. Over the years, the Portland, OR band had made a name for itself with its unique brand of hyper-literate, anachronistic folk-rock. Albums like 2003’s Her Majesty and 2005’s Picaresque brimmed with sweeping tales of doomed love, epic blood feuds, and lonely chimbley sweeps.
But by the release of the group’s fifth LP, 2009’s The Hazards of Love, it appeared that the five-piece had finally jumped the proverbial shark. A meandering, overwrought concept album, the operatic Hazards alienated fans with its ponderous story lines and proggy self-indulgence. Yet just when it seemed certain that the Decemberists would forever disappear up their own rectum, they released The King Is Dead.
Released on January 18 by Capital Records, King is a welcome bit of course correction that eschews high-conceptual tomfoolery in favor of good old Americana-inspired directness. Thanks to some help from guest stars Gillian Welch and REM’s Peter Buck, The Decemberists have created a refreshing return to form that cranks up the energy without dumbing down front man Colin Meloy’s academic indulgences. The decision has paid off — last week, the album was crowned #1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. That’s no small feat for a band usually known for 9-minute epics about getting swallowed by whales.
This is normally the part where we’d advise you to grab tickets for The Decemberists’ February 13 show at House of Blues, but unfortunately the show is already sold out. So instead, listen to/download the rousing, infectious “Down by the Water” (MP3) and try to be a little quicker on the draw next time.