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The Decemberists - The King Is Dead CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

2.92 | 88 ratings

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Down By the River: I shot my baby The River: At night we go down to the river Down By the Waterside: In the shadow of the cargo I take you one time Down By the Water: The lash-flashing Leda of pier nineteen

I got Mary pregnant. It was down by the river, down by the waterline, over by the old main drag. Man, that was all she wrote.

The Decemberists have a new one. Make no mistake, Colin is no fool. There's danger in trying to top The Hazards of Love...when yer rocking the waters, the shoals are always near. Not to mention a Siren or two to lure you into those shadowy rocks. Musical history is littered with the recorded shards of those who've attempted to go one too far. The smart ones...Dylan, Byrds, Beatles, Grateful Dead and many others...when they reach a certain point, they step back and reflect upon the musical soundscape that is their lives. The smart ones retreat, to a barn, to a backwoods house, to the uniquely American pastiche of rock/country/blues. It's about as close to nothing as one can's pure music, the sound of trees falling and horses shitting and Mason & Dixon surveying, drawing that line. So it is with The Decemberists.

I crank the thing up. There's that pedestrian Neil Young beat and the annoying harmonica. Well at least we know where we are here, and it ain't no tricked up forest. No, it's Colin writing some good songs, and given his almost unfailing musical sense, he brought in Gillian Welch to harmonize with him. I might as well say it here Gillian Welch makes the album what it is. This is Emmylou territory, or Ian & Sylvia, or Neil and Nicolette. There's four strong winds imbuing these songs.

The melodies are timeless, if not original. It's decades of American music, with a bit of Fairport Convention thrown in. It's a deep well The Decemberists draw from on this album, and they are not simply copying this stuff. No, it's internalized, it's in their blood and has been there all along.

The keening pedal steel, the plaintive accordion, the incredibly crisp acoustic guitars, the rural backbeat. It's all here. The album is by turns rockin' (Don't Carry It All, Rox in the Box, Down By the Water) and reflective (Rise To Me, January Hymn, July Hymn). I listen and am transported back through the decades, hearing the music I've been hearing since I was a lad of ten years old.

We finally get to the penultimate track, the anthemic This Is Why We Fight. The song embodies all that has come before, not just on the album but before, as in the decades. Musically. Ideologically. This is why. It's a musical cauldron if drums and acoustic strumming and electric guitar. Colin's voice is clear and rides above all. There a point...the music stops:

This is why Why we fight, why we lie awake This is why This why we fight

Songs like this wound and anoint us. The music falls on our ears and the emotions wash over us. Some of us weep. I've probably said this before: it's for songs like this that we even bother to listen to music, that we even bother to care.

Is it prog? Probably not. Should you listen to it? I've said what I've said.

jammun | 4/5 |


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