The curious thing about The Decemberists’ new album is just how ordinary it is. The band’s complex prog-rock fairy-tales and mythical sea shanties are absent, replaced by easygoing twang-folk compositions full of granola acoustic guitars, bluesy piano and wheedling harmonica. In many cases, these unadorned songs are almost too plain to distinguish themselves from others in the genre.
- The Decemberists
- The King Is Dead
The exceptions are King’s tunes with guests. Gillian Welch and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck add sweetheart harmonies and guitar (respectively) on the excellent single “Down by the Water”; the brisk highlight “Calamity Song,” to which Buck contributes more jangly riffs, sounds plucked straight from R.E.M.’s Reckoning. (DecREMberists?) The album’s lyrics don’t help its case, either. Previous Decemberists songs focused on strong characters, which made the band’s music meaningful and relatable—and mitigated much of their pretentious tendencies. But King’s lyrics are comprised of meticulous, wrought-iron poetry that’s aesthetically lovely but too vague to have any real emotional traction.