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Music Review: Decemberists get simple on latest album

Music Review: Decemberists get simple on latest album

The Decemberists, "The King Is Dead" (Capitol)

January 19th, 2011 by STEVEN WINE, Associated Press in News

Perhaps the best moment on the Decemberists' new album comes at the end of a tune called "Calamity Song," when frontman Colin Meloy provides a transcendent touch by climbing into his high register. "Ah-ooo," he sings. "Ah-ooo."

It's beautiful, and ironic to hear such momentous wordless vocals from a band that loves lofty lyrics. On "The King Is Dead," Meloy sings about a panoply, barony, trillium, bonhomie and - on each of the first two tunes - loam. Even with a dictionary, not all of it makes sense.

Still, this is the Oregon quintet's least cerebral album, especially compared with its elaborate 2009 song cycle, "The Hazards Of Love." Arrangements and song structures have been stripped down, and the result is a delightful, straightforward set of mostly acoustic folk rock.

Meloy's gift for melody makes every tune catchy, and as a singing partner he wisely recruits the luminous Gillian Welch, who shows she's in Emmylou Harris' league as a harmony vocalist. Guitarist Peter Buck also sits in, which is why a couple of jangly songs sound like R.E.M. outtakes. A pedal steel twangs, a fiddle and accordion dance in tandem, and Meloy channels his inner Neil Young on the harp as the Decemberists deftly expand their musical vocabulary.

CHECK THIS OUT: The band dares to attempt a coal-miner's lament, and Meloy's dark humor makes the hoary subject seem fresh on the toe-tapper "Rox In The Box." Great title, too.