The Decemberists' latest album, the King Is Dead, feels like a toned down version of the band's roots, for me. For some, it may be a welcome departure from the band's eccentric vocals and indulgent stories, but that's what made them interesting to me in the first place. Seeing these elements leave the stage makes this album very underwhelming for me. It's ultra-crisp production and mundane instrumentation only worsen my problems. Colin still has a great presence, and the songwriting is still quite good; however, what these songs are shelled in is making me shy away.
As for Iron & Wine, Sam Beam is really venturing out of his safety zone this time around, and I'd say it's working for him for a good part of this record. Sam has always been a soft-spoken, intimate songwriter, so it's not surprising to feel as if he's being overshadowed by some of this instrumentation. The close connection Iron & Wine's old albums used to have seems missing here, and the production is no replacement--even if the quirky riffs and horns on "Big Burned Hand," for example, are pretty fun.
There are quiet moments here that go over great, but a good chunk of this record doesn't feel all that personal or affecting.