Colin Meloy's dynamic vocals lead the way on Castaways and Cutouts, the impressive 2003 effort by Portland, OR, quintet the Decemberists. Throughout the disc, Meloy's songs tell tales of life's castaways, including Spanish gypsies and Turkish prostitutes, painting glorious pictures with supposedly suspicious characters. After opening the album with two subdued tracks, "July, July!" is a lively anthem, setting a gloriously quirky pace for the rest of the disc. "A Cautionary Song" centers around Jenny Conlee's accordion, as acoustic guitar swirls around Meloy's narrative. "Odalisque" is quite possibly the highlight of the album, carrying the listener through peaks and valleys led by Conlee's juiced-up organ and Meloy's grittiest vocals of the disc. "Cocoon" calms the mood back down, with gentle piano and guitar serving as the song's backbone. On "The Legionnaire's Lament," the band's effortless folk is at its best, with choppy guitars and enchanting organ swirling behind Meloy's relentlessly thrilling storytelling. Yet again, the disc continues a rise-and-fall approach as the restrained and engaging "Clementine" is next, followed by the beautiful "California One," which features some jaw-dropping upright bass by Nate Query. That song makes a seamless transition into the closer, "Youth and Beauty Brigade," a carefully crafted epic full of witticisms and reserved style. Meloy's vocals are their most engaging by now, and while the last track might not be the standout song of the disc, it's perfectly positioned on the disc for maximum effect. The song's rising intensity and lyrical imagery add up for a stunning finish, leaving the listener clamoring for more, as all great albums do. Chris Funk adds guitar and theremin, and drummer Ezra Holbrook rounds out the five-piece band. Originally released in 2002 on Hush Records, Kill Rock Stars Records released Castaways and Cutouts in May 2003.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cramer