The King Is Dead is the sixth studio album by The Decemberists, released on Capitol Records on January 14, 2011. Described as the "most pastoral, rustic record they've ever made" by Douglas Wolk of Rolling Stone, the album reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart for the week ending February 5, 2011. The song "This Is Why We Fight" reached number 19 on the U.S Alternative Songs Chart, while the song "Down by the Water" also charted in the United States. In November 2011, the band released an EP of album out-takes, entitled Long Live the King.
Prior to the album's release, the vocalist and guitarist Colin Meloy stated that: "If there's anything academic about this record, or me trying to force myself in a direction, it was realising that the last three records were really influenced by the British folk revival [...] this whole world that I was discovering, that I was poring over, learning inside-out. It was a wanting to get away from that. And looking back into more American traditions, reconnecting with more American music."
The King Is Dead was recorded during spring 2010, with most of it being made in a six-week period in a barn at an 80-acre (320,000 m2) site called Pendarvis Farm, near Portland, Oregon. It has been speculated that the album title is an homage to The Smiths' 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, largely due to Colin Meloy's long-touted influence from the band. It was co-produced by Tucker Martine. At least three of the ten songs—"Down by the Water", "Rise to Me" and "June Hymn"—were performed live in 2010. Meloy has said that a primary musical influence for much of The King Is Dead is R.E.M., and three songs, "Don't Carry It All", "Calamity Song" and "Down by the Water", feature the R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. The album was released on January 18, 2011.The King Is Dead has been called the "most pastoral, rustic record they've ever made" by Douglas Wolk of Rolling Stone. On January 26, 2011, it became their first No. 1 album on the U.S. album chart.
On November 1, 2011, the outtakes EP Long Live the King was released, collecting six songs recorded during these sessions.
The first single, "Down by the Water", includes Peter Buck and the singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, who contribute 12-string guitar and vocal harmonies, respectively. It also features accordion riffs and heavy harmonica reminiscent of Neil Young; particularly the song "Heart of Gold". "Down by the Water" has been compared to the music of Bruce Springsteen. It was featured for free download on November 2, 2010, on the band's official website. Meloy has said that The King Is Dead is more straightforward and heavily influenced by R.E.M., and "Down by the Water" is a prime example. Meloy said that the song "started out as more of a paean to R.E.M. than I think any of us really wanted it to be".
Lyrically, "Down by the Water" is vaguely mournful. It has been described as "folksy", "uptempo", and "country-esque".