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THE DECEMBERISTS

Prog Folk • United States


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The Decemberists biography
The Decemberists are a sometimes-quintet hailing from Portland, Oregon and currently signed to the Capitol Records label. While often referred to as an indie band, they have evolved over their seven years of existence into a group that delivers passionate, ambitious, and sophisticated story-centered music that both incorporates and transcends a number of styles and apparent influences. The band has established a reputation for eclectic and wildly unconventional arrangements, lively and interactive concerts, and unusual lyrical themes that sometimes border on the bizarre.

Band founder Colin MELOY was born and reared in the rustic and rugged northwestern hamlet of Helena, Montana (USA), and began his musical career as singer/songwriter for the alternative-country bands HAPPY CACTUS and TARKIO before resettling in Portland to form the DECEMBERISTS. Meloy has also toured as a solo act promoting his personal recordings of Morrissey covers, as well as a heavily folk-driven album of Shirley Collins standards.

The band's first offering was the self-released '5 Songs' in 2001, actually a six-track EP which included several songs referencing local Montana historical sites and events, as well as the whimsical ditty "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" written in response to pressure from his parents to abandon music for a more reliable and respected career. This was followed by their first full length album 'Castaways and Cutouts', which was packed with character sketches and period pieces with references ranging from the Nazi concentration camps of Birkenau to ghosts of stillborn infants, to homeless people in love to a mother-turned-prostitute trying to feed her children. The sympathetic glimpses of the human Struggle and unconventional instrumentation are reminiscent of bands like VIOLENT FEMMES or an unpretentious version of NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL.

Their next album 'Her Majesty the Decemberists' began a gravitation toward nautical themes possibly influenced by the band's settling in the coastal town of Portland, Oregon. In addition to what were by now becoming almost obligatory odd character sketches such as the story of a chimney sweep (a desperate wedded couple; gymnast; and a bumbling soldier) were a number of historical tales centered around the American poet Myla Goldberg, as well as the British frigate HMS Arethusa. The album also includes Meloy's passionate life-affirmation "I Was Meant for the Stage".

The band's breakthrou...
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The Crane Wife [Vinyl]The Crane Wife [Vinyl]
Capitol 2006
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THE DECEMBERISTS shows & tickets


  • The Decemberists at Vicar Street, Baile Átha Cliath on 11 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at O2 Academy Glasgow, Glasgow on 13 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at O2 Academy, Leeds on 14 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at O2 Academy Bristol, Bristol on 16 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Manchester Academy 1, Manchester on 17 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at The Institute, Birmingham on 18 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Brighton Dome, Brighton on 20 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at O2 Academy Brixton, London on 21 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists + Serafina Steer at Paradiso, Amsterdam on 23 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists + Serafina Steer at Ancienne Belgique, Brussels on 24 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Doornroosje, Nijmegen on 25 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Astra, Berlin on 26 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Kaufleuten, Zürich on 28 Feb 2015
  • The Decemberists at Magazzini Generali, Milano on 1 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists at Keller Auditorium, Portland on 21 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Northrop Memorial Auditorium, Minneapolis on 24 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Riverside Theater, Milwaukee on 25 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Chicago Theatre, Chicago on 27 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI on 28 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Massey Hall, Toronto on 30 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Benedum Center, Pennsylvania on 31 Mar 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at University At Buffalo Center for the Arts, Buffalo on 1 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at House of Blues, Boston on 3 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at House of Blues, Boston on 4 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Beacon Theatre, New York on 6 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Academy of Music, Philadelphia on 7 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at The Fillmore Charlotte, Charlotte NC on 9 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Tabernacle, Atlanta on 10 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists at Tabernacle, Atlanta on 11 Apr 2015
  • The Decemberists + Alvvays at Ryman Auditorium, Nashville on 13 Apr 2015

THE DECEMBERISTS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE DECEMBERISTS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.59 | 40 ratings
Castaways and Cutouts
2002
3.18 | 33 ratings
Her Majesty
2003
3.60 | 57 ratings
Picaresque
2005
3.97 | 124 ratings
The Crane Wife
2006
4.11 | 232 ratings
The Hazards of Love
2009
2.91 | 69 ratings
The King Is Dead
2011
0.00 | 0 ratings
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
2015

THE DECEMBERISTS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Live From SoHo
2007
3.15 | 7 ratings
We All Raise Our Voices to the Air
2012

THE DECEMBERISTS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.88 | 5 ratings
A Practical Handbook
2007

THE DECEMBERISTS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE DECEMBERISTS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.24 | 13 ratings
5 Songs
2001
3.72 | 17 ratings
The Tain
2004
2.03 | 5 ratings
Billy Liar
2004
3.00 | 2 ratings
16 Military Wives
2005
2.57 | 4 ratings
Picaresqueties
2005
3.00 | 2 ratings
Connect Sets
2006
2.69 | 5 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 1
2008
2.55 | 4 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 2
2008
3.03 | 5 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 3
2008
2.52 | 6 ratings
Down By The Water
2010
3.96 | 7 ratings
Long Live the King
2011

THE DECEMBERISTS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Castaways and Cutouts by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.59 | 40 ratings

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Castaways and Cutouts
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The darlings of the West Coast coffeehouse crowd were already stretching their boundaries on the band's debut album, adding a measure of faux-English eccentricity and mock-antique charm to their otherwise undemanding Indie Rock sound.

Head Decemberist Colin Meloy would still occasionally gravitate toward that lucrative hit single, in lightweight pop songs like "July, July". But those natural commercial instincts were matched against some equally inborn quasi-Prog ambitions, best heard in the shifting moods and unexpected tempos of "Odalisque", and throughout the too-relaxed, ten-minute mini- epic "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade", both songs enriched by the vintage '70s echo of Jenny Conlee's Hammond organ.

And the band's fixation with dire Victorian tragedy was given a trial airing in the (literally) haunted "Leslie Anne Levine", sung by the restless shade of a young girl "...born at nine and dead at noon". Even more instructive, and likewise resembling an Edward Gorey illustration brought to musical life, is the tongue-in-cheek moral of "A Cautionary Song", about a destitute London mother selling her body at night to feed her children by day...not your typical FM radio fodder, in other words.

Meloy enjoys a reputation as one of the more literate songsmiths ever to stroke an acoustic guitar, ready at the drop of a stove-pipe hat to assemble yet another motley cast of playful historical archetypes: countesses, courtesans, and crooked French Canadians gut-shot while running gin. His narrative whimsy extends here from Beacon Street to Birkenau to "Grace Cathedral Hill" in San Francisco (that's actually Nob Hill, Mr. "I'm from Montana" Meloy...), all more or less typical destinations along the author's usual 18th century musical Grand Tour. Name another lyricist able to put himself into the threadbare shoes of a soldier in desert French Algeria, allowing for the serendipitous rhyming of Legionnaire with dreams of a Frigidaire?

Meloy is of course the band's principal singer and sole composer. But it's the accordion work of Jenny Conlee, combined with Nate Query's acoustic upright bass, that gives the music its character. Better efforts would be forthcoming, but this initial album was a remarkably fresh and assured first outing.

Hipster postscript: the album's credits list a "sound clip from Archangel', a film by Guy Maddin" (you'll hear it, barely, in the song "California One"). Anyone familiar with the cult Winnipeg director will understand the attraction of his movies to a melodramatic fabulist like Meloy. The 1990 feature borrows is peculiar aesthetic from the primitive histrionics of the late silent / early sound era, in a convoluted tale of amnesia, lost love, and the Russian Revolution. At one point a dying character uses his own intestines to strangle the Bolshevik barbarian who just disemboweled him: a scene that must have left a deep impression on young Colin...

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 5 Songs by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2001
2.24 | 13 ratings

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5 Songs
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Ignoring their year 2009 masterpiece "The Hazards of Love" (and the better parts of "The Crane Wife" album), The Decemberists were never really a Progressive Rock band. What earned them a seat at the ProgArchives table was an eccentric Indie/Alt Rock sound crossbred with occasional closet Prog tendencies, few of which were apparent in their first EP, released in 2001.

Instead, the mini-album offered a pleasant but tentative calling card, announcing the arrival of a natural songwriter with a knack for easy hooks and eccentric storylines. Even in this larval stage of development Colin Meloy's adenoidal whimsy was an acquired taste. Ditto his usual cast of oddball characters, including King George "in imperial robe and lazy eye"; an Oriental circus stunt woman smuggling arms to the French underground; and a stolen bicycle named Madeline.

And of course there's Meloy himself, the band's colorful ringleader and self-described "ne'er-do-well": a literate wordsmith still in search of his lyrical groove, for the moment not above trying to rhyme 'corduroy' with 'Polaroid'. Missing in this beginner's sampler is the band's trademark vaudeville theatricality, although the song "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist" anticipates in embryonic form the gaslight melodramas of later Decemberist narratives.

Meloy was quixotic enough to keep the EP's original title after adding a sixth song to the package. Either way, there's little here to suggest a group headed for anything more than cult success. In the end it's an enjoyable but hardly distinguished first effort, painting an honest portrait of the band's less ambitious musical aspirations.

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 The Crane Wife by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.97 | 124 ratings

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The Crane Wife
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Obsidian Pigeon

4 stars An enchanting album.

I was first exposed to The Decemberists through their latest effort The King Is Dead. I really only liked a few tracks on that album, and I really enjoyed the vocals of Colin Meloy. Unaware of their more acclaimed earlier works such as The Crane Wife, I more or less just dismissed the rest of their discography and listened to the few songs on The King Is Dead.

Not too long ago, however, I was reintroduced to the band by a friend of mine, who gave me The Crane Wife. This album possesses some great tracks such as The Island and Yankee Bayonet that are not only well-written but also very well performed. I've come to really enjoy the music on here.

While most of the songs on here are fantastic, there are a few that I find myself skipping occasionally, and I feel like giving a classic rating to this would be perhaps a bit too lenient. Nonetheless, this is certainly something that should not be overlooked; it is very enjoyable.

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 We All Raise Our Voices to the Air by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Live, 2012
3.15 | 7 ratings

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We All Raise Our Voices to the Air
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Following the release of their most commercial (and commercially successful) studio album to date, the vagabonds and ragamuffins of The Decemberists return with a double-disc live set from their year 2011 American tour. It was probably inevitable that the band would choose to consolidate its popularity with a big, generous live package. But critics could also argue it's a surefire way to avoid making any decision about where to go next: down the same easy path to mainstream accessibility marked by their album "The King Is Dead", or back toward the whimsical folk-rock narratives of earlier efforts, with their petticoats, pantaloons, and restless Victorian ghosts.

So the new live album finds the group comfortably settled on their flowery laurels: a respite they've certainly earned. And fans who might have felt a slight letdown after hearing "The King Is Dead" should be reassured by the omnibus nature of the set list, drawn from the band's entire history, all the way back to their year 2001 demo EP "5 Songs".

It's not an entirely accurate representation of any single gig, however. Ringleader Colin Meloy cherry-picked elements from throughout the tour to assemble an idealized faux-concert, complete with Meloy's often priceless between-song banter (in truth, one of the big attractions to these discs). Alas, none of the songs were culled from the show I attended in Lewiston, New York, on the bluffs above the Niagara River...it would have been fun to hear drummer John Moen's unscripted rendition of "The Monster Mash" again.

I wouldn't expect this live CD to win any new fans. With the exception of the "The Crane Wife" trilogy of songs, performed uninterrupted and (unlike the studio versions) in the proper sequence, newcomers may wonder why an REM-influenced Indie Rock ensemble is even included on this site at all. In answer I would direct your skeptical attention to the album "The Hazards of Love": a masterpiece of modern Prog, but without the usual imitative ties to the 1970s, and sadly represented here by only one cut ("The Rake's Song"), somewhat orphaned when heard out of context.

The show comes to a rousing climax with "The Mariner's Revenge Song", one of those obligatory crowd-pleasers in danger of being spoiled by overexposure, not unlike "Roundabout" by Yes or the long-standing Jethro Tull ball-and-chain "Aqualung". But the encore is encouraging: a faithful performance of the otherwise routine ballad "I Was Meant For the Stage", devolving in its final chorus into an extended free-form barrage of raw, over-amped noise.

Perhaps that unexpected coda was meant as a challenge by Meloy to his fans: don't get too complacent just yet..! But for now it's enough to simply enjoy the spectacle of a unique band caught in the spotlight at the crossroads of ambition: no longer just another eccentric cult act, and precariously navigating the knife-edge of real success.

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 The Hazards of Love by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2009
4.11 | 232 ratings

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The Hazards of Love
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the only Decemberists album I've really found myself to be enthused by, perhaps because it's the one album of theirs where they do the most to dial back the affected tweeness that occasionally irritates in their other work. A gothic folk melodrama concept album revolving around deadly feuds, fatal consequences, sinister crimes and supernatural weirdness, the Decemberists create a jagged sonic world which runs with some of the grimmer themes indulged in by the likes of Comus, albeit with a vastly more accessible musical backing - for instance, The Rake's Song is the catchiest, happiest sing-along prog folk song about murdering your own children I've ever heard. A unique chiller.

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 Her Majesty by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.18 | 33 ratings

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Her Majesty
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars At first listen, The Decemberist's Her Majesty isn't an album I'd put forward for the prog folk category. The band's roots in the indie folk scene are very apparent throughout this baroque and occasionally twee album, and a cursory early listen didn't suggest much to me which was progressive about it. But on repeated listens I find that the band do succeed in building in little quirks and twists here and there which taken as a whole are suggestive of their more ambitious and experimental works. If this were an indie rock site I'd give it three and a half stars, but this is progarchives so three stars is the best I can do.

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 Long Live the King by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2011
3.96 | 7 ratings

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Long Live the King
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by jammun
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Well [&*!#] yeah I'm in a bar in Montana...could be Missoula or Livingstone or Butte I dunno I-90 runs through many hellholes some of which are toxic and I've been on the road a while...and there is a band playing? and eventually I'm so far gone that I don't even notice that I've had a couple too many pitchers of beer in that bar, but I'm a polite guy, some from Idaho might say scholarly, and I duck under the table and the vomit coming out of my mouth just disappears into the sawdust on the floor, which let's face is there for a reason. Not like they just decide to put it there for ambiance. We are deep into Americana, that being what they call it Now, and there had best be some sawdust to catch the inevitable fallout.

Really, I'm so wrecked that I hardly notice that some of the songs that band is playing sound like The Decemberists, way back before they started playing that uppity prog-rock stuff. Some goes back to a sort of prog-folk sound, that E. Watson song for example. Other stuff is just flat- out psychedelic, say Burying Davy.

But it's ol' Row Jimmy that gets me going. Grab a rabbit by the hare. I don't know if Colin just missed that or decided to go his own road. The guy's no fool so the smart money is on the latter. Those pedal steel tones, that Neil Young staggering back beat that comes in the morning, no not that morning, not the one after a good nights' sleep. No, the one after a bad jag on yer unfortunate drug of choice, when you are just thankful to wake up, who cares where you left the girlfriend or the van.Well it's a Dead song, so what would we expect? But Holy Shite it is beautiful when a band can make it sound like no one else in the band know what the hell they are doing, that blissful night before that morning, and yet it comes together.

So Long Live the King. It's but an EP, no expectations, no promises.

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 The King Is Dead by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2011
2.91 | 69 ratings

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The King Is Dead
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Tombo2

5 stars "The Crane Wife" was my introduction to The Decemberists. I remember being particularly captivated by the catchier, poppier aspects to songs like "O Valencia", "Summersong", and the Crane Wife trilogy, and less by the prog side of the album (though, I admired the GG-like counterpoint of "Sons & Daughters"). It was fair to say, that The Decemberists, were somewhat of a guilty pleasure in my catalogue of flat-out prog rock classics. Once "The Hazards of Love" was released, I was hesitant to listen. In fact, it was only after a period of heavy contemplation, I decided to pick up the album, not having previously heard anything from it. Good decision. Possibly, the best decision I ever made. It turned out to be one of my favorite albums of all time, for the very fact that, it was progressive. It was eccentric. The concept, the instrumentation, the recurring themes, the strung together songs, it was a complete album. I played that one out. After that, I needed more, so I submerged myself in the sea that was the back-catalogue of Colin Meloy and friends, finding very little in the way of disappointment. So, when "The King Is Dead" came out, I heard it might be the last album they were going to make, well, I couldn't wait to hear it.

I didn't wait. I heard the whole thing, song by song, on YouTube before it was released. And I still bought it, the day it came out.

Now, I'll admit: "The King" is not progressive. Not eccentric. Not even a little. But, it is entertaining. "Hazards" was a musical masterpiece, but it was melancholy, mournful, sobering. There is a charm to the upbeat "King". It has nothing but a care-free feel. It's almost as if, Meloy realized he couldn't do better than "Hazards", so he just said: "wtf", and did whatever came to him. Forget the eccentricities.

Good idea. "The King" has all of the appeal of the previous Decemberists albums, it just lacks the overall structure. It keeps your attention. Even if there are no recurring themes, no bridges to link the songs, and it has very basic rock instrumentation, as an album, it succeeds.

From the captivating fun of "Don't Carry It All", "All Arise, and "Calamity Song" (which recalls the contrasting feel and lyric of Your Majesty's "Los Angeles, I'm yours"), to the laid-back comfort of "January Hymn" and "Dear Avery", to the punchy "Down By the Water" and "This Is Why We Fight", "The King Is Dead" has a persistent charisma that keeps it enticing.

This is the catchier, poppier, Decemberists. Without the prog. But, that's okay. It is still a complete album. Anyone who enjoyed The Decemberists for their sound and not their complexity, should like this. Maybe it sounds like REM. Maybe it sounds alt-country. I don't know. I don't care. All I know, is: I love it. Its charm and optimism is in great contrast to the dreariness of "Hazards", and it makes for the perfect swansong (if it has to be) of The Decemberists.

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 Down By The Water by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2010
2.52 | 6 ratings

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Down By The Water
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Epignosis
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

3 stars Down by the Water" has a Louisiana Southern Rock sound that appeals to me, having grown up in the southeast region of North Carolina. The song has a mean harmonica and foot-stomping rhythm. As a country boy, this song has it out for me even if it has nothing to do with progressive rock. Despite any resemblance to The Decemberists of old, this song is straight-up country music made for today. Gillian Welch's vocals are a welcome appearance on this raw country rock tune, and produce a nice contrast to Colin Meloy's familiar inflections. I love the tremolo on the guitar.

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 The King Is Dead by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2011
2.91 | 69 ratings

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The King Is Dead
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by FunkyM

3 stars Much has been made of The Decemberists' 2011 album The King Is Dead. In some circles it has been considered a return to their folky roots. Meanwhile, on Progarchives.com it (as of this writing) holds the lowest rating of any Decemberists album.

It's easy to see why this album may polarize some. It is a very different beast than the group's 2009 album, The Hazards of Love (which just may be my favourite album of that year). Gone are the bombastic progressive rock influences and the grandiose concept album storylines. Instead we have something more along the lines of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-meets-Blue Rodeo with a little bit of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thrown in. The Decemberists' trademark sound is still easily recognizable though. They're in safe territory with this album and the folk-rock influences are indeed strong.

While this album may not appeal to prog-rock fans, is it a bad album? In my opinion it isn't. While it doesn't reach the heights of The Hazards of Love or The Crane Wife, the songwriting is still good and a number of the tracks on the album are memorable. The second half of the album is particularly good. My favourites are "Down By The Water", "June Hymn", and the closer, "Dear Avery".

In my opinion, The King Is Dead is successful for what the album aims for, but it is a drastic change in style from their last few albums. Consider yourself warned.

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