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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Molly Birch
Molly Birch

My name is Molly, and I am in my second year at NMU. I come from Midland, MI, probably one of the most boring places on earth. However, we do have the only Tridge in the world, so that’s pretty nifty...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

TIMES ARE CHANGING — FAFSA announced changes to its filing system in February.
Editorial — The "better" FAFSA
North Wind Editorial Board February 27, 2024

Decemberists’ latest heavily influenced

Portland’s indie-nerd archetype, The Decemberists, landed a No.1 record with its latest release, “The King Is Dead.”  This may come as some surprise, considering it follows 2009’s “The Hazards of Love,” which many considered the band’s most inaccessible album due to its complex storyline and operatic concept. Long-hailed an indie band, they have fully grown up on their major label, Capitol Records, and so too has their music.

On “King,” the band’s formula takes a turn by focusing on country, bluegrass, and Americana sounds. Although this may seem like a major change for The Decemberists, remember that they have always found their quirkiness by being a hodgepodge of pop, indie, folk and country. They have merely ditched the baroque storytelling, epic tales of shape-shifting lovers and dictionary requirement (but don’t worry, fans—words like “panoply,” “gabardine” and “culvert” still abound). By doing so, they are left with an album that lends itself to quick singles rather than a concept album that sums to more than its parts.

Opening with what sounds like a guest appearance by Neil Young on harmonica, “King” instantly reveals itself as an album fixed on capturing The Decemberists’ simpler, country side. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy’s first words of the album, “Here we come to a turning of the season,” signify a change in the band’s formula. Powerful words like “I am gonna stand my ground/ you rise to me and I’ll blow you down” snake through the album, as though the band is unapologetic in its decision to turn country and is willing to defend itself.

Meloy’s more mature songwriting is the highlight of the album. Instead of making an effort to be loquacious, he takes the Hemingway route by invoking deeper emotions from smaller words and balances them with the witty phrases that fans expect from him. Meloy turns his focus to universal themes, catchy pop melodies and sharp alliteration, such as my favorite, “The thrushes bleating battle with the wrens/ Disrupt my reverie again.”

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At times, though, “King” feels like a game of name-that-influence. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck has a cameo, and his presence is noted on the album’s three best tracks, especially on the first single, “Down by the Water” which sounds like an R.E.M. cover song. Gillian Welch (Dave Rawlings Machine, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) lends her voice on several tracks, supplementing choruses and pairing well with Meloy.

Alongside these guest appearances, The Decemberists channel The Band on “Rise to Me,” simulate Bob Dylan’s guitar and harp on “June Hymn,” and imitate Paul Simon’s African-influenced backing vocals on “January Hymn.” They do their best impersonation of The Smiths on “Rox in the Box” and “This Is Why We Fight,” which is the longest song on the album—and boy does it feel like it, dragging on using only about 20 different words. Even the album’s title is likely homage to The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead.” In this way, the album feels like a diluted derivative of other genres, as if The Decemberists cannot find their place.

Despite its many upsides, “King” presents few memorable tracks, surrounded by a bluegrass buffet where everything tastes the same. That is not to say the songs are uninspired or poorly crafted, but tracks such as “All Arise!” contain honky-tonk piano and banjo fills that become predictable and dull after the first listen. The album lacks the spontaneity and grit that make the country-folk flavor so savory. It is as though The Decemberists take a wire brush to an antique by presenting such a polished sound under Meloy’s raw wordplay. In releasing an album full of perfectly-assembled songs dusted with obscure references (try to catch the “Infinite Jest” allusion), they are still the same old Decemberists, but it may not be long before you see Colin Meloy donning a cowboy hat.

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