On this year’s winning The King Is Dead, The Decemberists presented the most immediately engaging batch of songs of their career, playing rootsy and melodic folk-pop with more grit than the bookish ensemble is known for. Where The King Is Dead represented the band loosening their neckties a bit, the album’s EP-sized sequel, Long Live The King, finds The Decemberists removing their coats and sprawling out comfortably on the living-room rug. A collection of outtakes from the King Is Dead sessions, Long Live The King finds inspiration in the Grateful Dead, whose gently rollicking “Row Jimmy” gets covered in spirited, surprisingly boozy fashion. Similarly, Long Live The King is a loose, almost ramshackle record; the songs, particularly the home-recorded demo “I 4 U & U 4 Me” are as catchy as ever, but they’re like snapshots of a band living in the moment, without regard for whether everything is falling exactly in the right place.
It’s the kind of confidence that can only come from having an abundance of great material. The crashing country-rock of “Foregone” absolutely sparkles, thanks to a sweeping steel-guitar lick, and “Burying Davy” builds to an impressively swampy mid-tempo stomp. But the stripped-down murder ballad “E. Watson” is just as effective, as is “Sonnet,” a lovely melody sent off with Crescent City horns. Any of these songs could’ve fit on The King Is Dead; instead, they’ve come together to form another excellent record.