#3 on the 2011 Musical Bacon Calendar
The King is Dead by the Decemberists
I didn’t want to like this album. My first few listens into The King is Dead, the sixth full-length album by the Decemberists, I was ready to declare the band dead in the water like so many characters from their songs. It didn’t hook me. I could only find one song on the album that I liked, the quiet “June Hymn.” There was no there there.
But after shelving it for a month or so (the album came out January 14, only two weeks into the new year), I found myself reaching for it again, almost against my will. It had wormed its way into my brain and festered there, like a tumor. It continued to take over my subconscious until it had moved into the foreground, when I found myself beginning to talk up the album to those same friends that I had poopooed the album to only a handful of months earlier.
Then my three-year-old son proclaimed his like for the songs on the album — and if you have a child, you know how nice it is to find an album that you can agree on with them and consequently sing along to together. As I’ve stated in other entries on this year’s Calendar, this has not been a great year for new music. While I do like this album quite a bit (enough to place it all the way up at #3), I don’t believe this album would have landed such a high spot in more competitive years. The Decemberists have also benefitted from this lack of competition more directly, as The King is Dead landed at #1 on the Billboard charts when it debuted, a feat surely not possible were the music industry not in its apparent free fall. The Billboard.com article about the album discusses the low-ball #1 album trend:
While it’s a best-ever week for the group, it’s still a so-so figure for the top-selling album. However, after the past two weeks, any number at No. 1 that’s north of 60,000 is welcome.
Last week, Cake’s Showroom of Compassion (featured at #22 on the Calendar) broke the SoundScan-era (1991-present) record low for a No. 1 album with only 44,000 sold. That record was set just one week earlier, when Taylor Swift’s Speak Now shifted 52,000 atop the list.
Regardless of circumstance, the band did manage to sell 94,000 copies in their first week, and that’s pretty damn good for a literary pop band out of Portland, Oregon. And I proudly say that this album is deserving of such high sales. It’s a throw-back album for the Decemberists. There are no 8-minute epics (“This is Why We Fight,” featured above, is the longest song on the album at 5 minutes, 30 seconds). There is no over-arching story to the whole album. This is just solid song after solid song, each one thoroughly enjoyable and unforgettable.
If you’ve not been a fan of the Decemberists to date, and your dislike of the band has not hinged on something uncurable like Coin Meloy’s nasally voice, then this album may win you over. There’s very little here to dislike, and plenty to gush about (even if at first you don’t care for it).
4. W H O K I L L by tUnE-yArDs
5. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
6. Bon Iver by Bon Iver
7. The King of Limbs by Radiohead
8. Bad As Me by Tom Waits
9. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
10. The Youth Die Young by Mad Rad
11. Last Night On Earth by Noah and the Whale
12. Codes and Keys by Death Cab For Cutie
13. Valley of the Headless Men by Ravenna Woods
14. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two by Beastie Boys
15. James Blake by James Blake
16. Hysterical by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
17. An Argument with Myself by Jens Lekman
18. The Whole Love by Wilco
19. My Goodness by My Goodness
20. My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men
21. Gloss Drop by Battles
22. Showroom of Compassion by CAKE
23. A New Kind of House EP by Typhoon
24. EP by Grouplove
25. Fan Chosen Covers (Best of) by Eef Barzelay
26. TKOL RMX 1234567 by Radiohead
27. Organ Music Not Virbraphone Like I’d Hoped by Moonface
28. Heavy Boots & Underwoods by Ben Fisher
29. The Rip Tide by Beirut
30. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
31. I Am Very Far by Okkervil River