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The Billboard 200 has seen some unexpected acts peaking on its charts in recent weeks due to the growing popularity of illegal downloads. Just last week, Cake finally took the top spot from Taylor Swift with the lowest sales in Soundscape history. Cage the Elephant took the 2nd spot, which is interesting seeing as how Cage the Elephant pulls a lot of influence from Cake. This week the Decemberists, a five piece indie folk rock band from Oregon, claimed the top spot with their sixth cd, “The King Is Dead”; the same Decemberists who had a mock feud with Stephen Colbert a few years ago.
The Decemberists sound as if you were to combine Death Cab with Sufjan Stevens and mix in Ace Ender’s more recent work. Instruments include the harmonica, accordion, upright bass and many others combined with the drums, bass and guitar of a typical band. The folk portion of the band comes not only from the instruments used, but also from the way the lyrics tell stories. The group uses a more upbeat pop tempo infused with the folk aspects to create a sort of hybrid. “The King Is Dead” pulls more influence from American aspects of music, compared to the European roots their previous releases were based on.
The opening track, “Don’t Carry It All”, is based heavily on violin and bass with harmonica and mandolin carrying the chorus. Lead vocalist Colin Meloy sings with a twang in this track, pulling in more of a country feel. Many musical styles are used in “Don’t Carry It All”, shedding light to what the band is best at right away. The first song sets the CD up, and what follows is musically similar.
The second song “Calamity Song” carries on from the sound of the first with a country sounding guitar intro. An upbeat fast tempo is paired with darker lyrics about death. Following on the track list is “Rise To Me” which has a slower pace that the previous two tracks. With an abundant amount of references to nature, the end of the song leaves off with a perfect harmony with backing vocalist John Moen.
“January Hymn” and “June Hymn”, the fifth and seventh songs are similar musically and lyrically, both talking about the seasons and reminiscing about times past. These two songs showcase Meloy’s vocal ability with no backing percussion and instead using an organ to keep time.
As some might have already heard, due to its early release as a single, the CD continues with “Down By The Water.” It’s an impressive track with Gillian Welch backing up Meloy. “This Is Why We Fight” however is the second to last song, and doesn’t quite fit with the flow of the rest of the CD, contributing a heavier tune with a lot of percussion and southern influence. “Dear Avery”, a song about growing up, closes out “The King Is Dead”.
“The King is Dead” almost seems like a backwards step for the band, not as many musical boundaries were pushed as on previous releases. And to top that the CD is also only about forty minutes long. These two facts coupled with the rise to the top of the billboard will undoubtedly lead some fans to cry “sellout”, although this is simply not the case. The Decembrists’ are simply gathering a lot of their previous material on one disc. The only major letdown was the lack of storyline throughout the album.
“The King is Dead” pretty much sums up the band’s previous releases, making it a great CD to listen to if you are unfamiliar with the band and are looking for a gateway in. Even if the word “folk” makes you cringe, give “Down By The River” a listen before you dismiss the band, and if you like it pick up the album because the rest is sure to be enjoyable.