Love it or hate it, the Decemberists’ The King is Dead
left the band in a controversial position. The group’s sixth full-length release was more or less a collection of simple folk rock tunes; offering a stark contrast to the prog-driven predecessors The Crane Wife
and The Hazards of Love
. The Decemberists’ 2011 effort was not only an indication of a band adjusting its sonic landscape, but also an indication that the group had reached the “catch-22” period that has to be faced somewhere down the line. This paradoxical struggle is never to be undermined, because it has the potential to destroy a band when changes are or aren’t made, dismissing fans that have either grown weary of the same sound or those who had loved the group for what it was. With this in mind, a hypothetical music critic cannot demonstrate any sort of consistency in suggesting which option is more profitable. That is, unless the implementation is considered.
In the case of the Decemberists, survival relies purely on their execution. For all intents and purposes, The King is Dead
was a focused and well-executed release that captured the new Americana-folk sound brilliantly. Its B-side, counter-part Long Live the King
is unsurprisingly on the same page, as it fuses elements of country and folk into a effortless EP. Case and point with “Foregone,” which takes tranquility to an entirely novel level, utilizing slide guitars and wonderfully carried out vocals by Colin Meloy and company. With tracks such as these in place however, Long Live the King
doesn’t cease to deliver stylistic differences. The tandem of “E. Watson” and “Burying Davy” discover ways to be intriguing despite their simplicity; the latter a momentous track that is elevated by potent dynamics and tremendous songwriting. Almost reminiscent of The Hazards of Love
in terms of lyricism, “Burying Davy” showcases Meloy’s prowess at articulating so much with so little: “Mother wept no tears, brother grew unruly, mother wept no tears, at burying Davy.”
Yet as affecting as the majority of the EPs tracks are, the listener is reminded that the album is a collection of B-sides with “Row Jimmy,” which doesn’t have much to offer in terms of musicianship or just sheer enjoy-ability. A cover of the Grateful Dead song, the Decemberists’ rendition is tedious and rather lifeless, bringing the record back down to earth. Regardless, with The King is Dead
and now Long Live the King
, the Decemberists damper the double-edged sword, or quite possibly, avoid it altogether.