Fans of The Decemberists may encounter a bit of a shock when they listen to the Portland band's latest. Though Colin Meloy's voice is recognizable as ever, the sound is distinctively different — it's country. The group's sixth album, The King Is Dead has an Americana feel to its tracks, and it's a twist that's very much intentional. Following their last release, The Hazards of Love, the artists decided to forgo their dramatic arrangements and flowery language for more stripped-down songs that tell a story.
Using a converted barn as their studio, The Decemberists pulled inspiration from the surrounding meadows and forest to weave their lyrics in King. And you can hear the influence on nearly every track from the earthy imagery in "June Hymn" to "Down by the Water." If the latter sounds a bit like R.E.M., you're not mistaken; R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck joins The Decemberists on three of the albums' songs. But the overall message of the album is simplicity. The songs are mainly acoustic, with instruments you might find in a rundown honky-tonk (think harmonica and accordions). It seems The Decemberists have decided to let go and just unwind — and the relaxed album is perfect for just that.