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The Decemberists - Castaways And Cutouts CD (album) cover

CASTAWAYS AND CUTOUTS

The Decemberists

 

Prog Folk

3.58 | 54 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The darlings of the West Coast coffeehouse crowd were already stretching their boundaries on the band's debut album, adding a measure of faux-English eccentricity and mock-antique charm to their otherwise undemanding Indie Rock sound.

Head Decemberist Colin Meloy would still occasionally gravitate toward that lucrative hit single, in lightweight pop songs like "July, July". But those natural commercial instincts were matched against some equally inborn quasi-Prog ambitions, best heard in the shifting moods and unexpected tempos of "Odalisque", and throughout the too-relaxed, ten-minute mini-epic "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade", both songs enriched by the vintage '70s echo of Jenny Conlee's Hammond organ.

And the band's fixation with dire Victorian tragedy was given a trial airing in the (literally) haunted "Leslie Anne Levine", sung by the restless shade of a young girl "...born at nine and dead at noon". Even more instructive is the tongue-in-cheek moral of "A Cautionary Song": an Edward Gorey illustration brought to musical life, about a destitute London mother selling her body at night to feed her children by day...not your typical FM radio fodder, in other words.

Meloy enjoys a reputation as one of the more literate songsmiths ever to stroke an acoustic guitar, ready at the drop of a stove-pipe hat to assemble yet another motley cast of playful historical archetypes: countesses, courtesans, and crooked French Canadians gut-shot while running gin. His narrative whimsy extends here from Beacon Street to Birkenau to "Grace Cathedral Hill" in San Francisco (that's actually Nob Hill, Mr. "I'm from Montana" Meloy...), all more or less typical destinations along the author's usual 18th century musical Grand Tour. Name another lyricist able to put himself into the threadbare shoes of a soldier in desert French Algeria, allowing for the serendipitous rhyming of Legionnaire with dreams of a Frigidaire?

Meloy is of course the band's principal singer and sole composer. But it's the accordion work of Jenny Conlee, combined with Nate Query's acoustic upright bass, that gives the music its character. Better efforts would be forthcoming, but this initial album was a remarkably fresh and assured first outing.

Hipster postscript: the album's credits list a "sound clip from 'Archangel', a film by Guy Maddin" (you'll hear it, barely, in the song "California One"). Anyone familiar with the cult Winnipeg director will understand the attraction of his movies to a melodramatic fabulist like Meloy. The 1990 feature borrows is peculiar aesthetic from the primitive histrionics of the late silent / early sound era, in a convoluted tale of amnesia, lost love, and the Russian Revolution. At one point a dying character uses his own intestines to strangle the Bolshevik barbarian who just disemboweled him: a scene that must have left a deep impression on young Colin...

Neu!mann | 3/5 |

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