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The Decemberists - The King is Dead

It seems like it has been forever since The Decemberists put out an album I thought was any good - and is has been five years - but in actuality they only put out one album I didn't like, The Hazards of Love. Though I'm always a proponent of bands changing and evolving, and though I'm certainly not someone who hates prog rock, as my love for Dream Theater and Pink Floyd will attest, I felt like The Decemberist's foray into that genre with the aforementioned The Hazards of Love was less than stellar. It's not that prog isn't good, it's that The Decemberists aren't very good at prog, and they are good at indie pop. Sure, some of the more proggy sections of The Crane Wife were pretty alright, but with regards to a full-fledged, real-deal go at the genre, well, I probably listened to The Hazards of Love less than a dozen times within a month of its release, and haven't touched it since.

So it's nice to have The Decemberists that I know and love back after what feels like a long hiatus, even if it wasn't that long. The King is Dead is something of a return to the earlier days, days before The Crane Wife, even. Only one song - This is Why We Fight - clocks in over five minutes, and it's only five and a half. Over half the album is in the three minute range. There aren't any story arcs or three-act narratives. This is the concise, literary indie pop for which The Decemberists are known. And I think that The King is Dead is far, far better for it.

The album is consistently good throughout, with, for better or worse, only a few moments that truly poke their heads above the rest. Don't Carry It All is a good opener and would make for a quality single. Between the harmonica and kick-kick-snare drum beat, I am reminded of a slightly faster-paced take on Tom Petty's You Don't Know How It Feels, but perhaps that's just me. The quickly finger-picked electric guitar of This Is Why We Fight probably ranks among my favorite musical aspects of the album, and All Arise! provides something notably new for the band, with a dive into Americana. And though I feel like I've heard The Decemberists play June Hymn at least twice before with a different name and lyrics, I still love the song, and largely because of - go figure - the lyrics.

In the end, The King is Dead is a change in direction for The Decemberists without actually breaking much, if any, new ground. As a recovery from the progressive tendencies - which doesn't seem nearly strong enough a word - of The Hazards of Love, I'm entirely happy with it. I am also entirely happy with it as a Decemberists album. I don't foresee it being on many best-of-the-year lists, but I certainly enjoy listening to it.

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