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REVIEW: The Decemberists Wrap Loose Ends With "Long Live The King"

D. Asal Ehsanipour |
November 2, 2011 | 9:30 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The Decemberists (Courtesy of the Decemberists' website)
The Decemberists (Courtesy of the Decemberists' website)
With several EPs and six full-fledged albums already under way, Portland-based indie-gone-mainstream band The Decemberists ignite a miscellaneous and beautifully assorted sound in their new EP, Long Live the King.

A follow up to The King is Dead, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s 200 upon its release in January, the new songs on Long Live the Kingclearly belong to an EP, not the album. All were recorded as contenders struggling to make it into The King is Dead’s final cut, but possessed an air unaligned with the final album, which ultimately landed it a separate home on the EP. 

While most of The King is Dead merges breeziness with edge—a Rock-n’-Roll-meets-campfire sort of ambiance—Long Live the King has an extra crunch—or a somber assertiveness, perhaps—which sets it apart.

Down By the Water,” one of The King Is Dead’s best known tracks, is upbeat and guitar-driven with the help of Peter Buck of R.E.M. on instrumentals. Other hits, such as “This is Why We Fight” and “Calamity Song” embrace energized American influences—even dabbling in tambourine and harmonica use- and ultimately offer a more acoustic and vibrant album reminiscent of The Decemberist's 2006 release, Crane WifeThe King is Dead is a prized dichotomy of animation and calm. To include anything outside that description would ruin its allure.

By contrast, the leftover singles on Long Live the King, albeit beautiful, are either too somber or honky-tonk to fit in with January’s release.

“E. Watson,” the EP’s opening track, demonstrates as such. The song is based on “Shadow Country,” a novel by Peter Matthiessen about Edgar “Bloody” Watson, an alleged criminal who was murdered in 1910. “Burying Davy,” the third song offered on the EP, has a similarly dark subject matter as well as harsh and solemn sound.  Colin Meloy’s crooning and chilling story-telling, though beautiful, feels tougher—sadder, even—than the rest of the album and EP. 

Their next hit, “Foregone,” is far from chilling. This would be track most country-folksy; more American; and a far step from The Decemberists’ largely British indie feel.  “I4U & U4Me” is similar; happy, fast-paced, and a little disorganized, which adds to its charm. A sharp contrast from “E. Watson” and “Burying Davy,” “Foregone” and “I4U & U4Me” are dancey and maybe even a little cutesy.

Row Jimmy” is a fresh take on the Grateful Dead hit recorded in the mid-1970s. This track meshes the two themes prevalent in the rest of the EP; it has both country folk while retaining a strong soulfulness. The interpretation is so enjoyable that it easily could have been one of The Decemberists’ own, rather than a song they borrowed for fun while recording the remainder of The King is Dead. 

The collective EP is like a conglomerate of leftovers that didn't quite fit with the rest of the album, yet individually still evoke a catchiness characteristic of The Decemberists' instrumental and lyrics-based style. It's a lovely listen in its own right, haunting at times, energized at others, and collectively incorporates the best of everything The Decemberists have to offer.

Reach reporter Asal Ehsanipour here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

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