Category: Decemberists

Album review: The Decemberists' 'The King Is Dead'

Decemberists_240 On “The Hazards of Love,” the 2009 album from the Decemberists, frontman Colin Meloy and his merry band of Pacific Northwest hucksters created a medieval rock opera. The band’s latest album, “The King Is Dead,” takes the opposite tack, exploring Americana, a much more simple, rustic format.

Problem is, you can take the man out of the opera but you can’t take the opera out of the man. Too much of “The King Is Dead” sounds like the showy wunderkind in theater class earnestly laboring through an Arthur Miller monologue when all he wants to do is stand up and trill at the top of his lungs.

“The King Is Dead” clings so closely to formula that it doesn’t sound like homage or even truth; it sounds like the studious but unconvincing work of an extremely gifted mimic. The right players are on the stage with Meloy — R.E.M.’s Peter Buck contributes guitar and mandolin, and Gillian Welch provides vocals that go a long way in establishing some measure of restraint here — but the songwriting never heads in a direction that can’t be predicted from the outset, a choice brave enough to inch the genre a little further along or afield.

One of the tracks that Buck contributes to, “Calamity Song,” is designed as a tribute to R.E.M., so much so that it almost steals the riff from “Talk About the Passion” note for note. Buck’s cooperation with such a stunt would seemingly remove possibility for a copyright lawsuit, but it only underscores what’s missing on the album — the shadowy, idiosyncratic depths of Americana that R.E.M.’s classic debut, “Murmur,” captured so brilliantly.

—Margaret Wappler

The Decemberists
“The King Is Dead”
Two stars (Out of four) 

Who needs a full opera? The Decemberists get the cinematic treatment Monday at Royce Hall


The Decemberists’
dramatic concept album “The Hazards of Love,” released in March, is in a word: creepy.  Written as the score to an aborted musical, the narrative themes include a homicidal father offing his children with foxglove, a protagonist who happens to be a deer by day, and a river that swallows star-crossed lovers.

Colin Meloy, frontman for the Portland, Ore.-based folk-pop group, says “ ’The Hazards of Love’ was intended to live in the woods, this dangerous place where strange and wonderful things occur.”

And by strange and wonderful, we think he meant creepy. Though the musical was never staged, the band did collaborate with a Los Angeles-based film collective to produce an animated accompaniment to the album, which they’ll screen -- and play live to -- for the first time at Royce Hall on Monday, Oct. 19.

We spoke with Meloy about the album’s macabre themes, the film’s psychedelic imagery, and whether he’s finally, reluctantly, accepting the term “rock opera.” Read the story here.

-- Alie Ward

Photo credit: Jack Plunkett / Associated Press

Decemberists win with digital release


The latest release from the Decemberists landed at No. 14 on the album charts this week despite a sizable handicap: It wasn't available on CD.

EMI's Capitol Records opted to sell "The Hazards of Love" as a near-exclusive via Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store for a week. Illustrating the growing viability of the digital marketplace, the experiment resulted in iTunes shoppers' downloading about 18,000 copies during the week ended March 22, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The iTunes sales and an additional 1,000 copies sold on vinyl put "The Hazards of Love" solidly in the top 20 before the CD hit stores Tuesday.

"It's a real paradigm shift," said Matt Wishnow, who runs the online music store "Now, because of leaks and intentional distribution of either artwork or music, the excitement is ripe way before release date. It puts labels and artists in a very challenging position, but creates opportunities for them to monetize the pre-street-date event."

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SXSW: The Decemberists play "The Hazards of Love"

Meloy A barbecue joint in the heart of Austin’s party district may not seem like the best place for a composer and his ensemble to debut a serious new work. But the Decemberists, the Oregonian collaborative that realizes Colin Meloy’s folkloric conceptions, are a rock band, too. So just after midnight Thursday, the group took the stage at Stubb's in front of a lawn full of festival-goers sipping beer and Texas Tea and presented “The Hazards of Love,” its new “folk opera,” for the first time in concert. The show was presented by NPR Music, and celebrated the release of the “Hazards” album (out now on iTunes, due Tuesday on CD and vinyl).

This may have been the first occasion that the word “thou” was uttered on a stage that usually holds modern rockers like R.E.M. or jam bands like G. Love and Special Sauce. (Metallica is expected play there this weekend.)  But the Decemberists’ fans were ready for quaintness.

(More after the jump.)

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