Some Kind Of Trouble by James Blunt is offensively bland. Nasal, sugary, signer songer writer pop that all sounds annoyingly similar.
The Cypress House by Michael Koryta blends the supernatural with noir in a southern gothic, depression era binding. Arlen Wagner and Paul Brickhill were headed to the Florida Keys by train to work on Depression era public works projects when Wagner, a weary WWI vet, sees death in the eyes of those on the train. Convincing Paul to step off the train, they meet up with a local, Walt Sorenson, who gives them a ride to Rebecca Cady’s Cypress House. There, a series of events entangles Arlen, Paul, Rebecca with local, corrupt towns people. During these events, Arlen struggles with his supernatural abilities.
The three main characters, Paul, Rebecca and Arlen, all have developed back stories, each related to the era, where people sometimes had to do less than more things to survive. Those actions had more to do with survival, believing in yourself so you could live to be a better person. Arlen’s struggle with his ability, and his past, signify this.
The Cypress House reads well, especially the first half, and the last 60 pages told in pouring rain as Arlen makes his way through the backwoods and bayous is gripping.
Is the album title an allusion to The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, or a nod to their past album’s, The Hazards of Love, overreach? I don’t know. For the latter, Hazards was an epic indie rock opera, which to some seemed pretentious. The King is Dead, however, is a much simpler album with straight up rock songs in the vein of The Decemberists’ instrumentation and Meloy’s vocals.
Don’t Carry it All, Down By the Water and Rox in the Box are the most upbeat, rock songs on the album. January Hymn and June Hymn slow the pace down and Dear Avery gently strides off as the album’s closer.
Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine combines Sam Beam’s southern gothic imagery with a more lush pop rock sound. His previous album, The Shepherd’s Dog, showed hints of this change, going from a soft spoken singer song writer to genteel rock ‘n’ roll front man. Tree By the River, Walking Far from Home and Rabbit Will Run are stand outs. Big Burned Hand is driven by a deep, funky bass line with some angry lyrics. The album fades out with a shimmering jam on Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me. Themes of scorn, forgiveness, sin, nature and catharsis run throughout. He’s still a folk singer telling stories in his songs.
The sound and production have matured, and it seems curious as to what he’ll do next.
Note, the Deluxe version comes with two extra songs, Black Candle and Lean Into the Light. The former feels like it could have fit into the album with similar bass lines and progressions, but Lean Into the Light feels soulful, as if it was something to make the indie rock kids sway to the backing harmonies.