Music Reviews
Castaways and Cutouts

Decemberists Castaways and Cutouts

(Hush / Kill Rock Stars) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

It's early days for The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts is their debut long player, recorded after one modest EP release - but already a pattern has began to develop in the group's press. Now, as someone who writes about music every week, I'm fully aware of the need to draw parallels between new artists and their more established counterparts. But while this time-honoured technique undoubtedly serves a purpose - those increasingly irritating and lazily conceived Joy Division comparisons initially sparked my interest in Interpol, I'm sorry to say - it has a habit of snowballing out of control (see Interpol, again).

The press has been kind so far in choosing Neutral Milk Hotel as the Decemberists 'key influence', but as the comparison continues to rear its ugly head, it's important to remember not to judge Colin Meloy's songs against those of NMH leader, Jeff Mangum. I'll come clean and admit that's exactly what I did at first, but if you really want to get the most out of Castaways and Cutouts an open mind is absolutely essential. In other words, don't throw out your copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, just keep it away from the stereo for a few days.

Should you listen to it in its entirety, the first thing you'll notice about Castaways and Cutouts is its languid pace. The relatively ecstatic acoustic-driven pop July, July and The Legionnaire's Lament (imagine Of Montreal if they were actually from Montreal) are the only two initial standouts in what sounds like a rather ordinary set of tunes. But, as it does so often in music, persistence really pays off here. With a few listens under your belt, the cheap thrills of July, July are soon forgotten, substituted by the deeper, more lyrically challenging kicks of Odalisque and superb opener, Leslie Ann Levine.

The accordion-led A Cautionary Tale, ventures into weirder territory with limited success - a few clever couplets aside, there's nothing of genuine interest to see here - while the dirge-like Cocoon is all desperate, heartbroken melodies and cryptic tales of mortality. Next, Great Cathedral Hill offers more of the same, dealing with the subject of a far from perfect New Year's Day. As Meloy complains, "I paid twenty-five cents to light a little white candle" you almost hear the disillusion in his voice. Fantastic stuff.

The nine minute plus California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade, with its unforgettable "we're calling all bed-wetters" line, rounds off Castaways and Cutouts in a bizarrely epic fashion, highlighting the fact that not only are the Decemberists prepared to try their hand at anything, they more often than not succeed in style. And to think this is only album number one. Without doubt, a bright future beckons.