The Decemberists do not sound as though they come from our time. So when the independent label Kill Rock Stars reissued the Decemberists’ album “Castaways and Cutouts” several months ago, it seemed the label must have stumbled upon an ancient hidden gem – an album hidden in the depths of an abandoned ship. In actuality, “Castaways” was recorded for Hush Records only one year ago.
On an initial hearing, the Decemberists’ music evokes traveling the seas on a pirate ship. The band, most notably the accordion, leisurely sways to an almost baroque mood. Colin Meloy’s sneering vocals sing of ports and harbors. And the album cover is a drawing of a wooden ship with large sails. You can almost taste the salt spray.
After you dig a little deeper into the Decemberists, however, you discover more than just pirate music. Each song bleeds into the other, allowing a constant flow and connection to the music even though the songs weave in and out of different settings and story lines. But in the end, it all seems to be a part of the same story – one that transcends time.
“Leslie Anne Levine” begins “Castaways” with a chilling first-person narrative of a girl “born at nine and dead at noon,” who still haunts the place of her death. The next track, “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” floats between the characters of a World War II soldier and an architect. The last character, a Spaniard, describes countesses and courtesans and marionettes and tells a lover “we travel without seatbelts on.”
The use of lingering ghosts and roaming dreams let the Decemberists wander through the past and overlap time.
The album closes with Meloy calling, “Come join the Youth and Beauty Brigade. Nothing will stand in our way.” It is as if Meloy is inviting you to join his world of immortality.
While most who discover the reissue of “Castaways” remain in awe and not yet ready to remove it from the CD player, the band’s recent album “Her Majesty” continues the time travel journey of the first.
“Her Majesty” is even more haunting than “Castaways.” From the start a ship creeks and groans before Meloy warns, “Tell your daughters not to walk the streets alone tonight.”
“The Chimbley Sweep” dances with a lively accordion you would expect on the streets of Paris as an orphan boy dances on rooftops laughing, “I’ll shake you from your sleep.” The song is reminiscent of “Leslie Anne Levine” haunting her rooftops. “Her Majesty” only adds to the mystery of the Decemberists.