Album of the Week: The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts

Released: 21st May, 2002

Standout Tracks: July July, Grace Cathedral Hill, The Legionnaire’s Lament

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Mainly because nothing on the musical landscape has really captured my imagination. Then came The Decemberists…

I’ve been interested in getting into the Oregon band ever since I saw them on Parks & Recreation a few years ago. As is standard, my most damaging flaw in this regard has been my own idiocy. The problem I have had is that I kept thinking they were The Descendents. After a few confused listens to the seminal punk album Milo Goes to College, I finally realised that this wasn’t the same folky indie band that I had seen on the TV. Then boom. A couple more years later and I finally got round to researching who I should have been looking for all along!

Castaways and Cutouts is The Decemberists first and best album. It opens with the downbeat stomp of ‘Leslie Anne Levine’ before the ethereal ‘Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect’ kicks in and oh my god they are already my new favourite band. ‘July, July!’ is a beautifully straight forward indie pop song and the fact that the opening three tracks are so disparate is an indicator of what makes this band so interesting. Like Neutral Milk Hotel or The Mountain Goats, they are able to span many different genres and style, sometimes within the same song.

‘Odalisque’ and ‘Cocoon’ anchor the album at track 5 and 6 respectively and are both epic and majestic in length and imagination. The albums highpoint follows, the maudlin ‘Grace Cathedral Hill’. A song so catchy and emotive that I had to listen to it on repeat for a few days just to fully appreciate the splendour of it all. ‘The Legionnaire’s Lament’ is the song that best combines all the eclectic elements of The Decemberists into one sonically satisfying spoonful and the acoustic strum of ‘Clementine’ is the most beautiful song you haven’t heard yet.

The album closes with the 9 minute epic ‘California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade’ and while it is probably the weakest moment on the album, it still feels like a fitting end.

The great thing about music is that it will always take you by surprise. It took me 15 years to discover this album and about 15 minutes to fall in love with it.


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