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The Decemberists - Castaways And Cutouts CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.58 | 63 ratings

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Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars If J.D. Salinger wrote progressive rock, this would be it. Some have mentioned how difficult it is to get past Colin Meloy's voice; whereas I took to them immediately, but I can see why some people are put off by them. He has an unmistakable voice, but its more of his pronunciation that I suspect gets under most people's skin (while not a perfect comparison, I liken his inflections to those of George Jones). But the lyrics- oh the lyrics- the lyrics are intense and at times deceptively dark; it is easy to bathe in the delight of the eloquence of the songwriter, but anything more than a cursory hearing will show the grave nature of the subjects. Hiding behind that articulate vocabulary are faces and situations and stories that can rend the heart or even force some to reexamine the dismissive way they may treat the poor, the vagrants, the prostitutes, and the in love. Where the music may be accused of simplicity (something many progressive rock lovers just seem to be above), the words belie any plainness with regards to the songs as a whole. The album is full of reverence for the characters that inhabit it- the good, the ugly, and the morally questionable. This lyrical maturity will continue throughout future albums as the music becomes slightly more developed. And a mysterious line creeps up in several songs that punctures the heart of the woe of humanity: "What can we do?" God knows I've asked that before.

"Leslie Anne Levine" The great way to start this beautifully simplistic album, full of acoustic guitar and accordion. The chord progression is not typical but the melody is catchy, a combination which helps to make the song immediately memorable. It is recognized as the sequel to "We Both Go Down Together," also by The Decemberists.

"Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" That repetitive electric guitar riff and quavering organ in the background, not to mention the gorgeous vocal melody create the music for a great contemporary soft rock song. The lyrics are utterly amazing in a way I can scarcely articulate. In the first vignette, the narrator describes being a soldier during World War II in the German camp of Burkenau. The solider, declaring his allegiance to the war, says that he would do anything to lie with his love except give up his gun. The titular second verse describes someone with no building skills who dreamt he was an architect, and though his work was unsurpassed, he could not build a banister sturdy enough to maintain his relationship with his romantic partner. The third section describes a womanizing Spaniard who could manipulate women like puppets. But in the end, the protagonist is a man on the run with his girl, so close to death that they refrain from wearing seatbelts. The overall theme that I personally take away from this great song is that while we may imagine ourselves in wonderful and glorious circumstances, we sometimes fail to realize that what we are is much better than what we could be. Hence, it's better this way.

"July, July!" This is about as pop as it gets on this album. It's an upbeat song with a catchy chorus.

"A Cautionary Song" This is very much like something from The Tiger Lillies (a dark cabaret band that relies heavily on accordion and 3/4 time signatures). The lyrics are typical of the horrible nature of human depravity that Meloy effortlessly tackles; in this case, it's about a mother who is forced by sailors to be their whore at night (lest they kill her). As it turns out, this is how she feeds her family.

"Odalisque" This is a progressive rock masterpiece in itself, not just for the amazing music that develops, but for the heart-rending lyrics. Odalisque is literally a virgin female slave in the Ottoman Empire, and an assistant to the concubines.

"Cocoon" This is a perfect song for a rainy day. It's quiet, dreamy, and absolutely perfect to slow dance with. The lyrics are some of the most abstruse, but they seem to represent a stagnant relationship.

"Grace Cathedral Hill" In this beautiful musical portrait of San Francisco, the male protagonist is out with his Irish girl, who doesn't have a good attitude about much. Maybe a motorcycle ride at night would cheer her up. It doesn't. But he loves her even though she cries, and the fellow would do anything for her, including going to the Catholic church.

"The Legionnaire's Lament" The lyrics here seem to a describe a member of the French Foreign Legion enlisted to deal with Algeria in the 1830s, and in that light I love the flippant and anachronistic Frigidaire line. The music is a jaunty rock song with some lovely accordion thrown in for good measure.

"Clementine" A bittersweet song about people who are impoverished but in love. It reminds me of my wife and I talking before we were ever married, describing how we would live in cardboard if only we could be together. It's hard to remember those conversations these days, but this song brings it back to me.

"California One / Youth And Beauty Brigade" The album concludes with a nearly ten minute song that is reminiscent of youth and love. Its sweetness makes one recall a time when there was a warm passion to love, when it was more than just bills, parenting, and arguments. The song adds in an audio clip of Archangel by Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. A woman says, "I've heard of ghosts, good ghosts who wander the battlefields at night, guiding soldiers out of danger. If I was such a ghost I would stay so close to you, you could feel my breath on your cheek." Then there is the rally cry of "Youth and Beauty Brigade." By this point the album is over. What can we do? I know- play it again sometime real soon?

Epignosis | 5/5 |


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