Monday, November 22, 2010

A Decade With The Decemberists Down By The Water

The DecemberistsIt seems like forever since Colin Meloy left Tarkio in Montana and made his move to Portland. Officially, the band was hardly a band before the self-release of a five-song EP that the band raised money for by playing at the McMenamins hotel in order to buy studio time for the following day.

Their newest effort, The King Is Dead, will be available on Jan. 18. But the release of their new single, Down By The Water, shows that the indie band that rolled out of Portland is anything but dead. If the single is any indication of what is to come, expect The Decemberists to serve up something a little less restrained and more meaningful across an entire album.

With the single, singer/songwriter Meloy still delivers dynamic vocals against the sharper, sometimes choppy sounds banged out by Chris Funk (guitar, multi-instrumentalist), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards), Nate Query (bass, string bass), and John Moen (drums, backing vocals, melodica). They haven't lost their sense of humor either, suggesting the release date has meaning.

"If you take away the slashes, that reads 11811," writes the band on their Website. "What does that mean? Must you ask? Clearly it is a snowman surrounded by a colonnade of waving banners."

Snowmen aside, The Decemberists will be joined by Peter Buck of R.E.M. appearing on three of the tracks. While he has worked as a session musician for The Replacements before, there is some hope his distinctive style will shine through. It seems likely, as Meloy says, that R.E.M. inspired some of the material.

Also joining in on The King Is Dead is Gillian Welch for seven tracks, which may suggest a darker, busier sound that Meloy has said contributes to a more American vibe than his frequently English-inspired music. Regardless, it is expected to be raw from beginning to end, with the recordings captured in a converted barn by Tucker Martine. He produced The Hazards Of Love in 2009, which was a thoughtful concept album with one solid single, The Rake's Song.

While Down By The Water is the lead single for the album, The Decemberists did play three of the upcoming songs while opening for Neko Case and Bob Dylan in September. Rise To Me and June Hymn, which have been kicked around the net from a solo performance, capture the leanings.

Both are powerful, but June Hymn is something anyone with a taste for indie folk rock will want to add to their must buy list. It's brilliant. The R.E.M influence is especially pronounced, but in a way that only Meloy can deliver, making it almost certain the album will deserve another visit in January.

The Decemberists' Single Down By The Water Surges To 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale

Whereas Hazards of Love was said not to capture any converts, especially from those who had written the band off as precocious, I don't see any critics making this claim with the upcoming The King Is Dead album. Meloy has certainly learned something over the past decade. They seemed poised to release their best album yet with Capitol Records.

You can pick up Down By The Water on iTunes. You can also find Down By The Water on Amazon, where it has slowly been climbing up in sales but has yet to be rated.
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