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Castaways and Cutouts Original recording reissued
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Castaways and Cutouts
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Such a mix-up is understandable (even if it may seem quite the opposite on paper): The Decemberists stick to the same kind of heavy acoustic folk-rock and freakish lyrical balladry that fueled Neutral Milk Hotel's rise to power. Fortunately, their music also possesses enough unique twists to distinguish it from simple mimicry. The most obvious is the band's often baroque instrumentation, which generally makes for more elaborate arrangements than those of their stylistic forbearer. Hammond organ and subtle theremin flesh out the mix, each adding an anachronistic spin on the otherwise quaint jangle of strings and guitars hearkening to some dusty, distant past. Melodic organ riffs, meanwhile, slightly warp the old-time illusion of the music-- the better to compliment the absurd, rag-tag world at the center of this band's dreamy fictionalizations.
The Decemberists' is a land of ghosts and petticoats, ''crooked French-Canadians''; gut-shot while running gin, bedwetters and gentlemen suitors, abandoned wastrels and pickpockets. It's also a realm of bizarre historical dreamscapes and snazzy wordplay: ''And just to lie with you/ There's nothing that I wouldn't do/ Save lay my rifle down,'' sings Meloy in the bittersweet hallucination ''Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect''. Time and again, these unhappy tales and fantastic allegories ring out over strangely soothing, rolling folk that seldom breaks from a dense, melancholy haze.
Only once does Castaways and Cutouts fully escape the hypnotic pull of its darkling bedtime stories ''July, July!'' may be the album's only genuinely happy moment, decked out in lush harmonies and fly-away choruses that clip their wings just shy of soaring towards anything too grand. And the band actually makes this singular elated moment stick by remaining reasonably understated-- despite the temptation there must have been to launch into a full-on celebration in the midst of such omnipresent malaise, the song is content to simply smile, permeating the surrounding bleakness with a subtle aura of peaceful contentment.
The constant sobriety of the rest of these tracks does wear thin now and then-- the inclusion of another similarly uplifting tune might have made the record somewhat more effective-- but the somber fables of Castaways and Cutouts remain compelling nonetheless. The Decemberists rarely put forth individually gripping songs, yet somehow, the result is a remarkable whole, an autonomous unit. From the opening cry of, ''My name is Leslie Anne Levine/ My mother birthed me down a dry ravine,'' to the album's exhausting conclusion, the fever never breaks. So, if Jeff Mangum really is on permanent vacation, we're going to need a successor. Few bands seem as worthy of inheriting his twisted empire as The Decemberists. --Pitchfork
...The palpable feeling of repression of the Russian revolutionary Decembrists has been exhumed, oddly enough, by the Portland, Oregon band of the same name on their debut full length, Casta --All Music Guide
...The palpable feeling of repression of the Russian revolutionary Decembrists has been exhumed, oddly enough, by the Portland, Oregon band of the same name on their debut full length, Castaways and Cutouts...
The demystifing of these tales reveals the beauty of studied songwriting; a love for the musty things of life; and a record that will welcome the settling dust of time. The Russian Decemberists are a model for the ''bored bench-warmers.'' I can hear them yelling: ''Nothing will stand in our way.'' --Stylus Magazine
Colin Meloy's dynamic vocals lead the way on Castaways and Cutouts, the impressive 2003 effort by Portland, OR, quintet the Decemberists. Throughout the disc, Meloy's songs tell tales of life's castaways, including Spanish gypsies and Turkish prostitutes, painting glorious pictures with supposedly suspicious characters. After opening the album with two subdued tracks, ''July, July!'' is a lively anthem, setting a gloriously quirky pace for the rest of the disc. ''A Cautionary Song'' centers around Jenny Conlee's accordion, as acoustic guitar swirls around Meloy's narrative. ''Odalisque'' is quite possibly the highlight of the album, carrying the listener through peaks and valleys led by Conlee's juiced-up organ and Meloy's grittiest vocals of the disc. ''Cocoon'' calms the mood back down, with gentle piano and guitar serving as the song's backbone. On ''The Legionnaire's Lament,'' the band's effortless folk is at its best, with choppy guitars and enchanting organ swirling behind Meloy's relentlessly thrilling storytelling. Yet again, the disc continues a rise-and-fall approach as the restrained and engaging ''Clementine'' is next, followed by the beautiful ''California One,'' which features some jaw-dropping upright bass by Nate Query. That song makes a seamless transition into the closer, ''Youth and Beauty Brigade,'' a carefully crafted epic full of witticisms and reserved style. Meloy's vocals are their most engaging by now, and while the last track might not be the standout song of the disc, it's perfectly positioned on the disc for maximum effect. The song's rising intensity and lyrical imagery add up for a stunning finish, leaving the listener clamoring for more, as all great albums do. Chris Funk adds guitar and theremin, and drummer Ezra Holbrook rounds out the five-piece band. --All Music Guide
Top Customer Reviews
Well, this disc is a lot like that.
Overall, this album is dotted with beautiful musical interaction by so many instruments and graced with detailed lyrical imagery. In my mind I can picture them as the last of the wandering minstrels, recanting the ghostly mid nineteenth century tale of young death on "Leslie Ann Levine", featuring what I can only identify as some sort of well played squeeze box ("Fifteen years gone now, I still wander this parapet and shake my rattle bone / Fifteen years gone now, I still cling to the petticoats of the girl who died with me").Read more ›
About half of the songs on the album are at least pretty good. These include the only two up-tempo numbers on the album, "July, July!" and "The Legionnaire's Lament". The strong mid-tempo songs include "Leslie Anne Levine", narrated by the ghost of a stillborn baby, "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect", and "A Cautionary Song", which is about mother who must sell her body to randy sailors in order to feed her children. "Odalisque" mixes up the tempos, and will require the first - if not second or third - reference to a dictionary for most listeners. The prominent arpeggios toward the end are reminiscent of "Because" by The Beatles. With these five songs going for it, the first half of the album is uniformly strong.
Alas, several songs on the second half of the CD are a bit, well, boring. "Cocoon" slows the tempo significantly, to the detriment of the song and the album. It is quite difficult to remain interested in it over the course of its seven minutes. "Grace Cathedral Hill" is a better song, but does little to add any momentum. The aforementioned "The Legionnaire's Lament" rescues the listener from the onset of ennui, but "Clementine" - a sweet and sincere song worth listening to at least once - threatens to set it right back in.
Fortunately, Castaways and Cutouts closes on a upbeat note, albeit a very long one. "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade" is the first epic of the group's career.Read more ›
The Decembrists' "sound" is very distinctive-- organs and accordions feature prominently, while singer/songwriter Colin Meloy's voice is slightly reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Meloy has a uniquely personal writing style, but where Hitchcock is deliriously surreal, Meloy's writing is structured around storytelling. Simply reading through the lyrics (which can be enjoyed in and of themselves), these tales of life's, er, castaways in various exotic time and place settings entertains. Listening to them, of course, is even better.
Throughout, the Decembrists walk a remarkable tightrope. Their music is quirky without being obtuse, literate without being pretentious, catchy with being cloying... I've been listening to a lot of good music this year, and CASTAWAYS might be the highlight. And the fact that they're from Portland is just icing on the cake. Hey, there's a song here called "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect"! You know, I wrote a guidebook to Portland architecture... and you really don't care. :)
Listen to this CD.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not as infantile as I expected! 10 good tracks with two songs on the last one! 2 tracks all acoustical! Shouldn't have expected less from my favorite folksters! Thanx!Published 4 months ago by Samuel E. Smith
Good for those old school Decemberists listeners. Favorite track: California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade.Published 7 months ago by Gabriel
As a dedicated Decemberists fan, I love this album and I was very excited to recieve a vinyl copy, but when I recieved it, it was scratched and some parts of the record would skip... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Raven Giusti
Not a lot to say. If you like the Decemberists, you'll like this album.Published 10 months ago by Ryan K
Outstanding. I have several of their albums and have enjoyed all of them. I first heard them on YouTube after I read an article in Acoustic Guitar magazine.Published 15 months ago by Gary T.
I feel like I don't need to rate the album from a musical perspective, if you're a Decemberists fan, you know how good this one is. Read morePublished 16 months ago by erik