Last year, The Decemberists released Castaways And Cutouts, its debut, on the tiny indie label Hush; the disc was subsequently reissued on the not-quite-as-tiny indie Kill Rock Stars. It was a small step, but The Decemberists' members are all about miniaturization. The band's dreamy, faintly psychedelic folk-pop gives a soft cushion to bandleader Colin Meloy's short-story-like lyrics, which span the globe to find lost, lonely little characters. With a voice halfway between Robyn Hitchcock and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, Meloy bellows over a sweetly somber mix of acoustic guitar, steel guitar, upright bass, organ, piano, accordion, and drums. Points of comparison range from The Pogues (for the trad elements) to Red House Painters (for the sad elements), but The Decemberists operates mostly in the realm of the lo-fi mini-orchestras of the late-'90s Elephant 6 movement. When the tracks stray too far into that world, they sometimes show too much bray and an excess of arch, but the group more often modulates its careening tendencies in service of Meloy's delicately hummable songwriting. One glorious case in point is the supple "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect," in which Meloy imagines himself in a series of exotic locales, living lives that keep going wrong: The seesaw melody and muted instrumentation put his colorful wordplay in the context of a man drifting through his own thoughts. The album meanders past other high points, like the syrupy "Cocoon" and the lite-rock "Grace Cathedral Hill," and then Castaways And Cutouts ends with a mini-suite encompassing "California One"–which sounds like a countrified take on The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down"–and the lilting reverie "Youth And Beauty Brigade." The track sprawls toward the 10-minute mark, but it does so with benign restraint, exemplifying The Decemberists' preoccupation with the forgotten but quietly strong citizens of the world.
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