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Music Review: The Decemberists – Long Live the King

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Indie folk rockers The Decemberists are slated to release a six track EP, Long Live the King, on November 1st. The album is made up of a selection of outtakes from the band’s hugely successful The King is Dead. It is a collection of songs echoing the random selection of material that some critics noted in that album, moving the band away from a concept album like 2009’s The Hazards of Love. Moreover, like The King is Dead, the new release is a country folk rock blend that shows off the band at its accessible best. There may be a lyric or two that Decemberist critics might find too cutely literary, but they are never intrusive. And though, for my money, there is nothing on the new disc with the power of a song like “Down By the Water,” there are those that come darn close.

The EP begins with a darkly dramatic post-Civil War story ballad of death and vengeance, “E. Watson.” It is a spare arrangement perfectly suited to the both the material and Collin Meloy’s vocal performance. Backup vocals are by Laura Veirs and Annalisa Tornfelt. “Burying Davy,” another stark dirge, adds an almost cacophonous dissonance that complements the emotional disturbance of the lyric. “I4U & U4Me,” a home demo, is an uptempo riff for two screw ups who were made for each other. I guess a phrase like “sticky wicket” is the kind of thing that bothers those that object to the band, while fans more than likely find it ironic. It is after all only one phrase. “Foregone” has a tuneful, old-fashioned quality that feels like it’s been around forever. It has a melody that really seems familiar, like a song you should know. “Row Jimmy” is a twangy Grateful Dead cover. “Sonnet” is a lilting enchantment that ends with a chorus of braying horns that contrasts ironically with the verse.

All in all, it says a lot about a band if they have outtakes as good as these, and if they happen to have any others lying around, I have no doubt fans will be happy to get them. The six tracks on this EP can only make their mouths water for more.

Luckily for them, whether the band has more or not, The Decemberists will be appearing for the second time on PBS’s Austin City Limits on October 22nd. The published set list doesn’t include any songs from the new EP, but it does feature music from The King is Dead as well as guest artists Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Also available from NPR’s Live Concert series is the band’s set from the 2011 Newport Folk Festival and a short Tiny Desk Concert from June; both can be downloaded as podcasts.

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About Jack Goodstein