Americana has been a constant muse for the Decemberists, conjuring images of a United States that might have once existed. For those who’ve enjoyed their descriptive lyrics and rootsy-folk sound, the new EP Long Live the King will do well to satiate appetites until their next album.
If the title seems a little lopsided, that is because the EP comes as a companion to their last effort, The King is Dead (TKID), which was released this past January. Comprised of songs that didn’t make the cut, Long Live the King is more of a collected coda of the ideas from the TKID.
The album works with themes similar to their last one: namely love and death. But it is never that simple with the Decemberists. While songs like “E.Watson” and “Burying Davy” have overt gloomy themes (read: funerals) and the demo “I4U & U4ME” is toe-tappingly up-tempo, there is enough content to whittle out a decent English paper.
Colin Meloy, lead singer and lyricist, is known for creating stories as vivid as a Benjamin West painting. The arrangements in “E.Watson” play very well with his imagery of having “towed his body northbound/And buried him all face down/with a good view into hell.” Meloy can be just as tender when describing the naming of a new life in “Foregone” as “we had agreed on Henry/Long before a flutter felt.”
Meloy’s most ambitious piece is “Sonnet,” the closing track. The liner notes describe it as “derived from Dante’s ‘Sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti.’” The song is a short little number about the desire to escape from the world in a magic boat, where friends can live in peace. It’s quaint, strange and historic in a classical way. It is definitely new territory, using non-American themes and a horn arrangement that feels like a swanky send-off.
With only six songs to make up the album, Long Live the King doesn’t play as expected. There is a large variety of sound on this EP. “Burying Davy” is a sinister sounding dirge about, you guessed, a funeral. “Row Jimmy” has a barroom feel, possibly due to its rather loose recording. Ambient cheers pop up, and the plunky piano definitely lightens the mood. By the time the final song ends, only 25 minutes have elapsed.
While these songs are quality, they do have a misplaced feel. Having been collected as an EP, this offering seems like a “tide-me-over” until the band gets back to recording new material. The songs here were recorded in 2010, albeit September, but after this the Decemberists should offer something more.
For those looking for a small collection of almost-album-worthy cuts from one of America’s prominent cerebral folk-rock bands then, by all means, partake. For those who are fickle, it’s best to let it lie. It might be called Long Live the King, but that doesn’t mean you need to join in the exclamation.
3 1/2 stars out of 5