The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (4/5). The Decemberists have been around for a long time, but this sixth album was my first exposure to them. They have an authentic rock sound that reminds me a lot of old school R.E.M., particularly on the gently rollicking "Calamity Song" (which actually, I just found out features R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, so no wonder). Generally though, they are a bit more backwater, with an acoustic instrumentation frequently composed of harmonica, fiddle and slide guitar. "Don't Carry It All" is almost country with its harmonica and fiddle, and the quieter "Rise to Me" or the more upbeat "All Arise!" twang enough to pretty much just be country. "Rox in the Box" is folksy and a bit darker, as is "This Is Why We Fight," which features great guitar work and gives the album some nice depth. Best: Down by the Water, Don't Carry It All, This Is Why We Fight, Rox in the Box.
Anna Calvi (3/5). British singer Anna Calvi's self-titled debut rides in on the moody wave of the Ennio Morricone-inspired instrumental "Rider to the Sea" and maintains an air of wicked austerity for much of its ten tracks. She's been compared to PJ Harvey because of her dramatic vocal style, but there's definitely some Spanish influence here as well. Songs like the seductive "No More Words" and "First We Kiss" burn with hushed vocals and prominent bass melody, while "Desire" lets loose at a higher throttle. Beat-heavy "Suzanne and I" strikes a nice middle ground with its spare but assertive guitars. These songs have their moments of weirdness and sometimes it gets a little too bizarre for my taste, particularly on the meandering closer "Love Won't Be Leaving," but poppier moments like "Blackout" make the set an overall enjoyable experience. Best: No More Words, Blackout, Suzanne and I.