theminus5_killcoverThe Minus 5's eighth album? Well, it's like REM meets The Decemberists. Literally. The Minus 5 is the plaything of Scott McCaughey, also leader of oddball Seattle power-popsters the Young Fresh Fellows, part of Robyn Hitchcock's backup The Venus 3, and for the last decade and a half live second guitarist and general studio sideman to REM. Around the time he joined that band he formed this one with Peter Buck. Having worked with members of Wilco and the Posies on previous Minus 5 records, this time around McCaughey and Buck hired drummer John Moen, who brought along his Decemberists bandmates to fill out various roles. Clear?With the shifting personnel comes a shifting sightline towards genre. Their last album, 2006's technically eponymous record but referred to by everyone as The Gun Album, was Beach Boys and Beatles flavoured; 2004's In Rock fuzzy, light headed and light hearted power-pop; 2003's almost self-explanatory Down With Wilco invoked the lush collages of McCaughey's collaborators' Summerteeth. This time around the sound suggests classic Dylan, in the arrangements and acoustic tone, being led into country's pedal steel, organ and a female backing vocal troupe.It's interesting that, for a band with heavy Wilco connections, it comes out in the shadow of a new Wilco album that often retreats to the softer, safer option, because a lot of Killingsworth does nothing so much as recall others who have recently taken alternative routes around Americana. The preponderance of backing vocals against country twang suggests Jenny Lewis' work with the Watson Twins, the clean arrangements Emmylou Harris or Gram Parsons. The lyrical wit is however McCaughey's own. 'Dark Hand Of Contagion' remarks upon a wedding that was "well planned, like a German invasion", while the banjo and accordion laced 'The Lurking Barrister' is about what the title says it's about. 'Scott Walker's Fault' drags in Colin Meloy, whose vocal on 'Cemetary Row' was the highlight of The Gun Album, here duetting with the girls to reduced effect.Meloy's reappearance in fact shows up the big problem with Killingsworth. Whenever the Decemberists have headed into folk-country waters they've made it count, either through a kaleidoscopic arrangement or the forcefulness of the lyrics. McCaughey is more of a wittily charming but still more straight up observational writer, and as such while there's little strictly at fault with the album there's also little that will stick with the listener or make that much of an impression. In the background on a warm summer's day its melodic enchanting catchiness is sufficiently diverting. As a proper listening experience it falls flat, with too little room allowed for diversion - the fairground organ on 'Your Favourite Mess' is about as varied as the countrified formula gets. A decent album, but on past evidence McCaughey and latest compadres are capable of so much more than stylistic exercise.61%The Minus 5 on Myspace