The Decemberists: Castaways and Cut-outs

Friday, 30 May 2003

Hell, I’m always on the lookout for some good new music. Unfortunately my search often results in less than good new music. There are far too many bands out there with delusions of grandeur, weird gimmicks, and stranger sounds, all of which don’t particularly agree with my constitution.

Thankfully, The Decemberists album Castaways and Cut-outs does not fit this bill.

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They are from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Washington or Oregon, or someplace. Treehuggers. Their sound on the other hand, seems to draw on influences from the world over, merged into a very indie feel. The vocals fo Colin Meloy gives the band a very Irish sound, he’s got an Irish name too, but he is from Missoula, Montana. Some of the song content is also quite reminiscent of relatively current events in Ireland. “Leslie Ann Levine” in particular would fit quite well as a meditation on the rife subject of teenage pregnancy, abortion and the Kerry babies case.

The songs are quite seedy in content, and create within me a sense that the entire album is a period piece of wharves, docks, and sundry other salty topics from a 19th century sea story. Petticoats, camisoles, castaways, and men at war, all blend together to create a subtle and sinister lyric-scape that is only heightened by the peppy music. You enjoy listening to the songs but then when you think about the lyrics you’re, like, whoa!

“A Cautionary Song” is probably the best example of this. Its a song about a mother who whores herself out in order to feed the kids. It rollicks along though, to a concertina/accordion, in a sea-shanty sailor rhythm. You might find yoruself tapping your feet as you hear about how she goes through an entire ship in a night.

and the next time she feeds you collard greens
remember what she does when you’re asleep

A nice zinger to end the song, eh? So sorry kids.

Their musical abilities are an amalgam of country, pop, standard rock, and various manifestations of form [i.e. the shanty] throughout the album. It might end on a note of hope, but it is a bit hard to tell, “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the closest the Decemberists seem to get to truly modern cookie-cutter false unity/alienation, yet the lyrics seem ironic, as if joining the Youth and Beauty Brigade might not be such a good thing. Perhaps this irony is meant to expose the shallowness of the “Youth of a Nation” vs. “Broken Home” dichotomy that so much crap music today seems to feed off of.

The Decemberists’ Castaways and Cut-outs should definitely be added to any self-respecting audiophile’s library.

another link

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