The Decemberists, ‘Long Live the King’ (Capitol)
Given how clearly they modeled this year’s chart-topping The King Is Dead on the early work of R.E.M., the Decemberists could’ve been expected to use this six-track EP to commemorate the ones they loved. Instead, the Portland veterans doff their tweed caps to the Grateful Dead; more surprising still, singer Colin Meloy resists stripping “Row Jimmy” of its funky longshoreman’s shuffle. The remaining originals on Long Live the King demonstrate why they began life as outtakes, with the exception of the harmony-dipped “E. Watson,” an all-American beauty worthy of rescue.