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.

[ini­tial­ize pom­pos­ity]

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

[end pom­pos­ity]