Friday, July 24, 2009

2002 : 23-24 Aught Music Roundtable: Castaways and Cutouts by the Decemberists

Roundtable Part One: "July, July!"

In discussions, I more often than not find myself alone on the Decemberists' wagon, usually being one of the few music fans in my circle who genuinely appreciates the work of Colin Meloy and company. However, their style is such that there is usually no happy medium. It's just as easy to enjoy their take on Victorian times, sea shanties, and Dickensian low-lives as it is to loathe such a niche. "July, July!" was one of their earliest hits off of their debut LP, and it combines the best two qualities of their style. The music is rollicking, especially during the main chorus. However, this jaunty melody belies the old-fashioned darkness that permeates the lyrics:

And I say your uncle was a crooked French-Canadian
And he was gut-shot running gin
And how his guts were all suspended in his fingers
and how he held 'em
How he held 'em held 'em in

There are usually no underlying messages in any Decemberists' song. The joy is in the basic storytelling, and while "July, July!" is among the simplest stories they've committed to music, it does show hints of the longer, more complex myths, fables, and sagas that have been seen in their most recent albums.

Jamie Yates

Roundtable Part Two: "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade"

And the road a-winding goes
From golden gate to roaring cliff-side
And the light is softly low
As our hearts become sweetly untied
Beneath the sun of California One

There are too many things for me to write about this song. How this is the perfect two songs stacked together to make one song. How the length of the song is carried by the dreamy nature of the tune and playing. How the song reminds me of the stretch of the California Highway One between Carmel and Big Sur. How I fell in love with this song while I was traveling alone in Europe. How the first time I heard this song I played it ten times in a row. How the song strikes the perfect chord about being alone. How this song is an amazing ending to an unexpectedly good album. How I cried when I saw them play it live.

We're calling all bed wetters
And ambulance chasers
Poor picker-pockets, bring 'em in
Come join the youth and beauty brigade
We're lining up the light-loafered
And the bored bench warmers
Castaways and cutouts, fill it up
Come join the youth and beauty brigade
Come join the youth and beauty brigade

What amazes me still is how they are calling to their listeners. They are calling to the misfits and losers of the world and saying "We are you; You are us." It caught me the very first time I heard this song. They are ending their first album by calling all their fans. It is a brilliant move.

There are lots of songs about California. I have learned that California is a million different things to 40 million people. This song is about my California.

I figured I had paid my debt to society
By paying my overdue fines
At the Multnomah County library, at the library
They said "Son, go join up
go join the youth and beauty brigade"

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Decemberists >> "July, July!" | "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade"

No comments: