Castaways and Cutouts by The Decemberists (Review)

Originally released on Hush Records, hopefully this reissue gets the larger audience that it deserves.
Castaways and Cutouts - Decemberists

The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy has already been branded the second coming of the Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum in some circles. While that’s an unfair and inaccurate burden for anyone to have to bear, it’s somewhat understandable. Like Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel, Meloy uses a bed of acoustic instruments to tell some truly bizarre stream of consciousness stories, which is where the similarities both begin and end.

Meloy’s Decemberists are much more straightforward than the Hotel ever was. The band lays down a fairly straightforward acoustic vibe heavy on the organ and pedal steel, seldom breaking above a walking pace. Meloy’s songs are frequently rather odd — a French Legionnaire, a stillborn child birthed in a dry ravine, and a prostitute servicing sailors on their anchored ships all feature as lead characters in his songs — but they are all told in a fairly straightforward manner lacking Mangum’s incredibly dense imagery.

That said, Meloy’s stuff is mighty compelling in its own right. From the dreamy ebb of “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect” and the wheezy accordion of “A Cautionary Song,” straight through to the closing, soaring coda of the epic “California One Youth And Beauty Brigade,” Castaways and Cutouts is a truly remarkable debut album, announcing a fairly significant new talent to the world.

Originally released by the tiny Portland imprint Hush, who have also just re-issued the band’s first stripped back but equally impressive EP, Castaways and Cutouts built up such a buzz in the underground that the indie hipsters over at Kill Rock Stars scooped it up, re-issuing it to bring it to the larger audience that it deserves.

Written by Chris Brown.

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