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The Decemberists - Castaways And Cutouts CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.58 | 63 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
2 stars There's no questioning Colin Meloy's ability to spin a yarn poetically. There's no denying his passion for the historical as recounted from a participant's perspective. There's no doubt that the DECEMBERISTS are a more than talented lot possessing the tools necessary to musically consummate a lyrical vision. In the first half of "Castaways and Cutouts", these truths are self evident. It is in the back 5, and well before the closing 10 minute dirge, that I find myself wishing that Meloy had just published a selection of his best poems rather than muzzle his mates to such a degree.

Even early on in this debut full length album, the seeds of disaffection are sowed; the arrangements in "Leslie Ann Levine" are spare and the melody stingy. "July July" is but a catchy slice of indy pop. These are more than offset by "Here I Dreamt I was an Architect", the gypsy folk of "A Cautionary Song", and the prog monster "Odalisque", one of the band's most layered and profound opuses. But after that it's one static procession after another. I daresay that by this point Meloy had adapted Al Stewart's historian's penchant, for the story may be cogent and worthy, but unless the composition and arrangement are at least half as innovational, it's not worth the studio time. "Grace Cathedral Hill" and "Clementine" might have worked well individually as an exercise in contrast on one of the groups more enthusiastic later efforts, but juxtaposed here they at best disappear into the furniture, at worst drive the listener to distraction. Even "Legionnaire's Lament" exposes that, at this point, the Decemberists" lack both the street wise edge and the lilt of folk rock masters like OYSTERBAND, MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG, and SAW DOCTORS.

There's no dispute regarding the present significance of the DECEMBERISTS to a newly revitalized American folk movement, but "Castaways and Cutouts" was but a baby step in that direction, and seemed more like a set of outtakes from future recordings, a voice bursting with potential in a mostly vain search for a real melody.

kenethlevine | 2/5 |


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