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Castaways and Cutouts – The Decemberists

Castaways And Cutouts

(2002), 9/10
The Decemberists’ first LP, Castaways And Cutouts, is a remarkably assured debut, with a distinctive style all but fleshed out immediately. ‘Leslie Anne Levine’ is a perfect, evocative opener (“My name is Leslie Anne Levine/My mother birthed me down a dry ravine/My mother birthed me far too soon/Born at nine and dead at noon”), with a nice chord progression that sets the tone for the rest of the record, ‘Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect’ skims along on pretty guitar arpeggios and warm organ textures, while ‘July, July!’ is as close as the band come to a rock song. ‘Odalisque’ and ‘Cocoon’ are both gorgeous, and while ‘Grace Cathedral Hill’ isn’t the best song written about the San Francisco landmark (see the Red House Painters first self titled record) it’s still heartfelt and the ten minute closer ‘California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade’ is also extremely convincing. A couple of the accordion based pieces (‘Legionaire’s Lament’, ‘A Cautionary Song’) aren’t as pleasantly engaging as the rest of the record, but they also play an important role in shaping the band’s identity. Castaways And Cutouts largely eschews gimmicky tracks in favour of solid songs; basically this is a fantastic record that’s easily one of my favourites from its decade.

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