Colin Meloy, the singer-songwriter at the heart of the Decemberists, spent his musically formative years in Missoula, Montana, but you couldn't prove it by Castaways and Cutouts. The first full-length by his band, which is currently based in Portland, Oregon, sounds like the work of a hyperliterate Brit.
"Leslie Anne Levine," the lead track here, sets the tone via a narrator "born at nine and dead at noon," whose only love was "a chimney sweep/lost and lodged inside a flue/back in 1842." The formality of this language, which Meloy croons in a crisp, clean tenor that keeps hinting at an accent, is paired with music highlighted by Jenny Conlee's patient accordion, Chris Funk's atmospheric pedal steel, Ezra Holbrook's unfussy drumming, and Nate Query's steady upright bass. The resulting tune is simultaneously ghoulish and enchanting.
Although Meloy seems most comfortable moving at a modest tempo, he occasionally comes up with a jaunty melody of the sort that enlivens "The Legionnaire's Lament," in which the desert-dwelling protagonist hopes for "a Frigidaire to come passing by." Still, misery lurks behind every hook: Consider the sonically sprightly "July, July!," which moves from a couplet celebrating a light-magenta camisole to lyrical images of blood rolling down the drain. Anglophiles from Missoula, unite.
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