The Decemberists have announced their new album The King Is Dead (Capitol Records, EMI). The album--a set of 10 concise, country-based songs--marks a deliberate turn towards simplicity after the band's wildly ambitious and widely acclaimed 2009 song-cycle The Hazards of Love. Produced once again by Tucker Martine, The King Is Dead features special guest appearances by Americana luminary Gillian Welch on seven tracks and legendary R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on three tracks. The King Is Dead showcases the ways in which The Decemberists--Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen--sound just as glorious in simple, stripped-down compositions as they do on the elaborate structures that have defined their work for years. Meloy points out, however, that creating straightforward, unadorned songs can be at least as hard as building complicated musical epics. "For all my talk about how complex those records were, this one may have been harder to do," he says. "It's a real challenge to make simple music, and lot of times we had to deliberately hold off and keep more space. This record is an exercise in restraint." The album was recorded in a converted barn at Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre estate of lush meadows, forest, and Mt. Hood views outside of Portland, and it was the concept of the barn--as recording space and as attitude--that informed the making of The King Is Dead. "We wanted that ethos," he says. "That was the color we wanted the record to have." To Meloy, in some ways The King Is Dead also represents his own musical journey coming full circle. "Over the last eleven years or so, since I moved to Portland, I feel like I've been mining mostly English traditions for influence", he says. "I guess I've kind of come back to a lot of the more American music that got me going in the first place - R.E.M. and Camper Van Beethoven and all these bands that borrowed from more American traditions like Neil Young and the Byrds." "Sometimes I kind of miss the epic-ness of the other albums," he continues, "but it's nice to get all of the information across in three minutes. It's like going from reading a novel to reading a bunch of short stories."