The Decemberists weren't kidding when they said their new set "The King Is Dead" would be concise.

The album is streaming in full via NPR, and comes in at only 10 tracks long and 40 minutes.

Not to knock their previous "Hazards of Love" (OK, only sort of) and "The Crane Wife," but abandoning fully conceived concepts in favor of song-songs really highlights their evolution as a band and maturing songwriters. Colin Meloy is less mouthy and really puts his efforts into the dynamics of the songs, instead of the dynamic of the album on the whole. Gillian Welch as a harmonizer sounds natural, not a show-off at all, and a great replacement, in my opinion to past backing vocalists like tinny singer and drummer Rachel Blumberg and My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Worden.

I'm particularly taken with "This Is Why We Fight," opener "Don't Carry It All" and Peter Buck-featuring "Calamity Song." Some familiar themes of royalty, falling from grace and natural imagery are there.

"King" is less country-leaning than I thought it'd be, but still grounded -- even rooted -- at its core.

The album is out in stores on Jan 18. It was among our 25 Most Anticipated Albums of 2011.

UPDATE: Get a free download of the song "Down By the Water" for today only via iTunes.