DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE

"If the silence takes you, then I hope it takes me too."

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
1997 - Present Indie rock, pop/rock The Postal Service (TBC)

Line-up: Started out as a solo project for Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, keyboards, drums in the early days), and after the debut EP soon expanded into a full band with the addition of Chris Walla (guitar, keyboards, production), Nick Harmer (bass) and Nathan Good (drums). Good left in 2000 (during the recording of We Have the Facts...) and was replaced by Michael Schorr for a few years. Schorr left in 2003 and Jason McGerr took his place in drums, completing the "classic" quartet line-up (pictured above). Walla left in 2014 and after a brief stint as a formal three-piece, the band eventually recruited tour musicians Dave Depper (guitar) and Zac Rae (keyboards) as official members.


Intro TBC!

Main discography:

Other releases:

Side projects:

Benjamin Gibbard

The Postal Service


Main discography


SOMETHING ABOUT AIRPLANES

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1998 7 "Bend to Squares", "President of What?", "Amputations"

1) Bend to Squares; 2) President of What?; 3) Champagne from a Paper Cup; 4) Your Bruise; 5) Pictures in an Exhibition; 6) Sleep Spent; 7) The Face That Launched 1,000 Shits; 8) Amputations; 9) Fake Frowns; 10) Line of Best Fit
10th Anniversary Edition CD2: Live at the Crocodile Café: 1) Your Bruise; 2) President of What?; 3) Fake Frowns; 4) Sweet and Tender Hooligan (feat. Sean Nelson); 5) State Street Residential; 6) Amputations; 7) Pictures in an Exhibition

Intimate and moody; a solid band who still have not fully figured out their songwriting but already creating sparks.

If you want to describe Something About Airplanes succinctly, it's that it sounds like an album by a small town band. That's not a negative descriptor, nor do I even know how big or small Bellingham (Washington, USA) was in the late nineties so it could be all wrong. But Something About Airplanes has got that sound - scruffy and homegrown, devised in the bedrooms of small flats and brought to life in the tiny stages of dive bar open mic nights. The sound quality isn't too far from the cassette demos of You Can Play These Songs with Chords - or the live disc that comes with the 10th anniversary version I've got here - and so the album sounds like a series of live takes recorded in ramshackle rooms, but that fits so well with its forlorn and melancholy songs full of pathos. Perhaps above all, you can hear the sparks behind the young, talented people figuring their way forward but already beginning to tap onto something special. Now, a lot of this just idyllic romanticism by an overimaginative music nerd - and likely heavily influenced by the very enthusiastic and vividly depictive liner notes from Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson on the above mentioned reissue - but the songs also tell their own tale. Death Cab may not be quite fully-formed yet but the signs are obvious to anyone who's paying attention.

There's plenty of familiar Death Cab elements throughout Something About Airplanes but they're all still a little raw and rough in ways that have a recognisable impact, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the album establishing its own identity apart from the rest. Gibbard's lyrics are less verbal and more crucually less narrative, leaving much more to the listener's imagination to figure out how things ended up in the sorry state that most of these vignettes depict. The music bringing those words to life is similarly less decorated, centered entirely around the tight interplay between Gibbard and Walla's oft-distorted dual guitars and Harmer and Good's tight rhythm section, locking each song into a particular setting they stick for the rest of their duration. Most of it's mid-tempo and moody, not quite heartbroken or sad but still slowly walking through a rainy day in an empty street. With all these elements combined, the overall feel of Something About Airplanes is somewhere between slowcore and midwest emo, with the occasional louder burst of guitar or a slightly bouncier tempo shift moving it away from that direction. It's a restrained record full of slowburners and so may demand a bit of patience - but once those hooks have sunk in slowly they're in there firmly.

In terms of the songs themselves, half of this is identical to You Can Play These Songs with Chords, with the band simply re-recording Gibbard's original demos one-to-one (minus the obvious technical flubs). Which is fair play: those original demo songs were for most part worth keeping and though these new versions aren't all too different at all, they are in all places simply executed better. The early show stormer "President of What?" now genuinely rocks out a bit and establishes itself fairly quickly as one of the album's obvious lead-in cuts that pulls the listener eagerly deeper into the record, the quietly grand closer "Line of Best Fit" now ends more dramatically with a few minutes of repeated melodies and ultimately a wave of feedback, the upbeat "Pictures in an Exhibition" now jumps out even louder as one of the album's few moments of real energy, and so forth. The anthemic "Amputations" perhaps gets the most effective facelift of them all - it was already one of the best songs of the demo tape and as it now comes with a bit of a bolder step and firmer touch, its achingly soaring chorus sounds even greater and places it as the highlight of the album. You could easily imagine it at home with all the other mid-late 90s alt rock staples and is the best example of the louder and slightly more grunge-indebted sound that the band would soon shake off while discovering what works best for them. In a way it's a shame this development kind of ended here - Death Cab could have been a great guitar rock band, too, if they had wanted to.

The new songs like "Sleep Spent" and "Your Bruise" simply continue on from the early recordings, acting as an extension for them rather than as a direct evolution. The opener "Bend to Squares" is of particular note simply because of how gracefully beautiful it sounds, right down to its tender intro of cello and picked acoustic guitar: a lot of Something About Airplanes sounds lovely to some degree or another, but in "Bend to Squares" specifically you can hear the genesis of the many heartbreaking ballads and arresting slow pieces that would become a regular part of the band's armoury in the future. The hurrying and manic "Fake Frowns", on the other hand, sounds more directly like the genesis of the countless bands who heard these late 90s indie records a decade later and would find their calling through them, and it's almost eery how reminiscent it is to so many young groups I've heard since then, but it takes away none of the charm of the "original". The strange duck of the brand new material is "The Face that Launched 1,000 Shits", a cover of Death Cab's long-forgotten local peers The Revolutionary Hydra which was added to the album as a last minute choice to literally bulk up the tracklisting and to pay tribute to the band's friends in the scene. Its woozy and hazy soundscape full of loopy organs and filtered vocals breaks away from the rest of the record and makes it an alluring and intriguing part of the record's flow - it's also just a really good song with a tight melody, and though the original is so obscure that I don't know how it goes because I can't even find it, Death Cab have managed to merge it with their own sound well enough that you could be easily forgiven for thinking it's an original.

One reason I might be so positive towards "The Death That Launched 1,000 Shits" - typically shrugged off as the album's weak link as covers usually are - is because it breaks out a little bit thanks to its unique vibe. There's a lot to appreciate and even love with Something About Airplanes and it's truly one of those albums that unfolds over time rather than immediately, but then that's also partly in due how a lot of it is more or less the same thing with slightly different melodies. It's a mood piece more than a collection of highlights, the kind of sustained atmosphere that sounds like it could be someone else's favourite album of all time if that mood happened to struck them when they neeed it. That isn't to say that it's all samey but the differences are often in the small details that exist outside Gibbard's songwriting - which is the album's relative weak point (comparatively speaking). Death Cab are already a solid band but Gibbard is still working out his voice as a writer, and though he's doing a good job here the simple fact is that he'd be doing a better job already on the next album as his gift for melody and arrangement became more diverse and having a band around him to throw off ideas with became more of a reality than it was when the bulk of this material was written. There are very few individual songs here that I would class as Death Cab essentials ("Your Bruise" and "Amputations" would make it to a hypothetical Flint Essentials comp though) and even after years of listening I still struggle to recall in most cases which song is which until they begin playing, and that's ultimately the reason why the album ends up with the rating it has. But in terms of creating a mood to sink into, it's still one of Death Cab's most arresting in that regard because in comparison to all the others, this is by and far their most intimate record - and that can be a little special too.

The 10th anniversary edition of the album comes with a bonus live disc, featuring one of the band's first live concerts (sharing the night with many other small bands like them, including the aforementioned The Revolutionary Hydra). The banter is charmingly awkward, the sound quality is quite good and the songs are played well and close to the recorded versions - which isn't surprising given the recorded versions are basically studio live recordings anyway. It's not the kind of extra material that should necessary convince you to get this edition specifically, but it helps to build a full picture of Death Cab circa 1997-1998 and works as a companion piece to not just the album, but perhaps even moreso to Nelson's liner notes that go into the evening in great detail. Nelson himself also features in the live disc's sole "only on this release" snag, a haphazard cover of The Smiths' "Sweet and Tender Hooligan": the arrangement is a little jollier but recognisably the same song, but with Death Cab relegated to a backing band for Nelson it's arguably the least essential part of the entire set. It's a nice little bonus that helps to colour the context around the album, but nothing genuinely important.

Physically: Clear jewel case housed within a slipcase/o-card. The o-card has a hole for the boat on the cover, which is actually part of the CD booklet cover that features the boat in the center of a wider set of ripples in bold blue and white - and those ripples then are actually on a translucent plastic sheet that acts as the booklet's covers, so once you pull back another layer you just have the boat in blank white space. It's neat! The paper in the booklet is also textured which is quite fun. The 10th anniversary CD edition was also a limited, numbered edition - mine's #8489.


WE HAVE THE FACTS AND WE'RE VOTING YES

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 8 "Title Track", "Company Calls", "Company Calls Epilogue"

1) Title Track; 2) The Employment Pages; 3) For What Reason; 4) Lowell, MA; 5) 405; 6) Little Fury Bugs; 7) Company Calls; 8) Company Calls Epilogue; 9) No Joy in Mudville; 10) Scientist Studies

Same as before but they figured out those kinks to iron out and what do you know, there's a great band underneath.

Very few albums make their point as clearly with their opening moments as We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes does. The first minute and a half of "Title Track" is muddy and muted, as Gibbard's intonation is comfortably unexcited and the music sounds like you're listening to the band play live from the adjacent room - so basically as you heard Death Cab on Something About Airplanes. But after the first chorus the production suddenly clarifies in a jump scare like snap, the dynamics get more dynamic and Gibbard introduces a little more life to his vocal melody. The song effectively repeats the same steps as before but it sounds mightier, more impactful, like a cocoon broken open. This is the moment when We Have the Facts... begins in actuality, re-introducing Death Cab a few years later their first appearance: it's still the same guys playing the same music, but their touch is more precise and vision more focused.

We Have the Facts... is a simple and direct follow-up to the debut album, but throughout Gibbard and Walla show off what they have learned in the couple of years following the first record (Harmer is also present, steady as ever; Good left shortly before the recording began in earnest and for most of the album Gibbard plays drums again too). The fake-out intro was Walla's idea to highlight how far he had come with his production skills (while also cheekily playing a prank on people's expectations), and across the rest of the album you can hear comfortably take the reigns as the man responsible for how Death Cab sound. The production still has that homely practice room atmosphere but the instruments are mixed clearer, the details are sharper and now and then you get a brief bit of additional flair with some audio filter drops and sound effects. In Gibbard's case his songwriting voice is still steeped in melancholy mid-tempo gazes into the complexities of young adulthood life, but he too has grown more confident. His singing has become warmer and more expressionate and his lyrics feature more detail, and e.g. "Company Calls Epilogue" is fully the kind of first-person character vignette that he'd turn into his signature style going forward. Musically he's starting to bring his different influences more boldly forward as well i.e. with the more energized power-pop-meets-midwest-emo tone of "For What Reason" and "Company Calls" and the atmospheric and elaborately textured "405" (which is just as much of a showcase for Walla in its sonic leanings) introducing new tricks into the band's arsenal. The guitar parts, played by both Walla and Gibbard, have also grown more elaborate and take full use out of the band's two-guitar set-up, leading to richer arrangements. With contributions from both gentlemen together, We Have the Facts... paints a vivid and rather cosy picture of a group of friends continuing to put their passion into their scrappy young group, but now insistent on doing it better.

It is, as boring as it is to repeat it, more of that early Death Cab sound but more refined and more elaborate - as well as a step closer to the "classic" sound most familiar from their biggest albums. It's all around a net positive affair from the listener's point of view because it taps onto the qualities the debut had with its gripping atmosphere and Gibbard's budding charisma, but displays it all in higher definition. With better songs, too - you can really hear Gibbard's growth in the wider structures and elaborate flows of the material here. "No Joy in Mudville" and "Title Track" sound like Gibbard hitting the perfect representation of what he spent the first album writing, their slow and steady paces building into emotional choruses, and in the case of "No Joy in Mudville" in grand crescendos of guitar that break through the delicate sadness of its depressed last dance of the evening vibe. The fuzzy electric piano and steady drum machine kick of the mid-album rest stop "405" cuts through the album's otherwise dominating dry guitars as a welcome splash of colour, and really highlights Gibbard's more elaborate sense of melody that's showing up across the record. But the heart and soul of the record is the "Company Calls" duology. The former is an all-guns-blazing style burst of vibrancy and energy that's downright giddy and thrilling, showcasing the liveliest side of Death Cab to date. Meanwhile, the "Epilogue" (really just a wholly different song where Gibbard utilised lyrics that didn't fit the first song) moves at a contrastingly slower speed but with a more burning emotional intensity behind its eyes: as the story unfolds so does the music, each of its choruses building up the tension and tightening the grip on the listener. Even if it's not the best song here, it's the most accomplished, a slowburning centrepiece statement for the album in all its sensitive emo balladry.

It's the kind of a great album that's surprisingly uninteresting to talk about because its excellence lies in such simple points. Walla's production is undecorated but effective, layering the album with clarity but also warmth; which then helps to bring out the best in Gibbard's songs and performance, and here he starts showing his credentials as one of the key frontmen of 2000s Western indie rock. There's a homespun intimacy to it all that keeps the songs grounded and immediately welcoming - almost comforting if you're into this kind of music at all - but strictly in the band's context it represents a semi-ambitious step up and you can hear throughout the record how the band are hatching into their adult form. "Company Calls Epilogue" could practically pass as a dictionary definition of a Death Cab song and you can practically hear the moment when the final piece in the band's self-portrait clicks into place, "Little Fury Bugs" is a call-forward to their most haunting moments in its use of sparse space, "405" is a prototype of the more programmed and/or keyboard-heavy ideas later down the line, to name some of the more obvious examples. The key thing is that nothing here gets overshadowed by the future: as basic as it is to say it, We Have the Facts... is a highlight because it's a rock-solid set of ten great songs with a classic turn-of-millennium mid-fi indie rock sound - resonant, heartfelt and immediately personal to the listener.

Physically: Jewel case with a white spine, fold-out booklet with lyrics. More Barsuk fun in the packaging: some of the coloured dots on the front cover are actually holes, with the colour coming from the larger circles in the page below.


THE PHOTO ALBUM

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2001 8 "A Movie Script Ending", "We Laugh Indoors", "Information Travels Faster"

1) Steadier Footing; 2) A Movie Script Ending; 3) We Laugh Indoors; 4) Information Travels Faster; 5) Why You'd Want to Live Here; 6) Blacking Out the Friction; 7) I Was a Kaleidoscope; 8) Styrofoam Plates; 9) Coney Island; 10) Debate Exposes Doubt

A rushed-out stop gap release sure, but one which unlocks new paths and still strikes a chord.

The first three Death Cab albums are a classic cycle of band evolution, the oft-common step-by-step journey from unpolished potential to a self-assured group of skilled musicians. The Photo Album is the classic third act in that path - the first album sees the raw talent come out, the second album sets the core elements perfectly in place, and by the time bands come to the third record they look towards expanding their sound and bringing new ideas onto the table. Thus, this album accordingly introduces more of everything as the arrangements break away from the guitar-bass-drums cornerstones to incorporate a piano (electric or otherwise) as the lead melodic element and gentle drum loops are introduced to add additional shades to the backbeats, and other times playing with the idea that not including something in the blank spaces is sometimes just as striking. The instrumental sections have become more involved and different sounds are starting to bleed into the familiar indie rock sound. If you want to summarise this album, it's Death Cab moving forward beyond their familiar garden hedge borders.

There's another classic third album trope that Death Cab ended up tripping here as well. The age-old saying is that you have your entire lifetime to write your first album, and typically bands then follow it up with more of the same until for the next go-around they stare a blank slate ahead of them. In Death Cab's case, the band started the recording process The Photo Album before they had enough songs to fill it; the hard truth was that they had a tour booked and the band felt the pressure to have something new out by the time they went on the road, so The Photo Album was in large parts thought up on the spot ahead of the deadline. That goes a good way explaining why it sounds so characteristically disjointed as after the carefully constructed flow of the first two albums with segues and implied narratives, The Photo Album is just a set of ten songs put together with no running thread. It also makes it more obvious why the album opener "Steadier Footing" is a sparse sub-two-minute introduction that sounds like it was put together ten minutes before they had to turn the album over, why "Coney Island" sounds like a demo (if you ever find yourself hearing Gibbard's home demos for later albums, you'll definitely pick up on this) or why some sections sound a little underwritten like "I Was a Kaleidoscope" which sounds like it's one more runthrough away from completion, or why there's an oddly bare and long instrumental break in "Styrofoam Plates". Between the lines it's evident that the band started on the album before they had planned for it, and out of all the Death Cab albums it feels like it has the least to say in that sense: no defined goal or target to aim with the music that they were plotting.

Because of all that The Photo Album flew under my radar for a long time as it didn't hold together strongly as many of Death Cab's other albums, but be it through growth, patience or change in tastes, one day it clicked. Even if you're simply mashing a bundle of random songs into a single disc, you're going to end up on the winning side if those songs are really good. There's only one track on The Photo Album which has never grown on me and that's "Why You'd Want to Live Here", Gibbard's unusually bitter ode of hatred to Los Angeles ("is this the city of angels or demons" always makes me wince) which wastes a potentially decent little rocker into a series of haphazards sneers and an impatiently foot-tapping pace that feels like it's stuck in traffic and is fiddling with the throttle in idle anticipation. But elsewhere the band find themselves on an unexpected hot streak and many of those slightly off-track moments mentioned above turn out to be surprisingly effective: the oddly vacant instrumental section of "Styrofoam Plates" means that when the next verse does kick in it sounds immediately more intense as the tone of the lyrics ramp up as well, "I Was a Kaleidoscope" may sound like it's still a little in early access but the suddenly atmospheric bridges are among the album's most attention-captivating parts, and even "Steadier Footing" in all its minimalism (intentional or not) sounds genuinely poignant and intimate in a manner that really highlights the emotion of the little setpiece the lyrics narrate, so much so that I wouldn't hesitate calling it one of my favourite songs here. Starting from "Steadier Footing" as well, the whole nearly-first half of the record is still among the band's strongest continuous track runs - through the instant classic and emotionally complex "A Movie Script Ending" which perfects the early Death Cab sound and which lingers beautifully through its spiralling guitars, the sustained tension of "We Laugh Indoors" which sounds like it's stuck on an increasingly foreboding loop that tightens and tightens before it explodes, and the theatrically dramatic emo bombast of "Information Travels Faster" which in its tone seemingly purges out and unvents all the stress the group were under.

Maybe the new stylistic sidetracts also take their cue from the rushed recording process - with the precious little time that they had, it's like Gibbard and co tried out completely new ideas in a quick fix for inspiration and/or they didn't let themselves second guess anything. That leaves us with some really interesting choices scattered throughout the album. Most prominently it's shown with the carefully krautrock-adjacent sustained tension of "We Laugh Indoors" which has a sense of momentum and dynamics Death Cab hadn't showcased before, and with the layered loops and live drums of "Coney Island" which together with its softly textured keyboards make it reminiscent of bedroom dream pop. On the smaller scale of things, Gibbard becoming more comfortable with a set of keys in front of him instead of strings also bring a new and welcome flair into the band's sound, and e.g. "Blacking Out the Friction" would be an understatedly lovely pop song in any form but the decision for it to be pulled by the chiming electric piano immediately adds a whole different layer of atmosphere to it; "Information Travels Faster" gets a lot of its weight from its coldly clinking piano as well. It's also worth complimenting Michael Schorr, whose only Death Cab album appearance is here but whose intricate parts - balancing between deft and muscular - are among my favourite Death Cab drum sections and greatly help pull these songs forward.

Despite its snappy runtime and the writing process that practically tempted fate by threatening to make it stop gap record, The Photo Album ultimately finds a place both in the discography and (most importantly) in the listening rota. From a wider perspective it introduces a lot of ingredients that would be absorbed into Death Cab's sound on a full-time basis going forward; on a more personal level, and there's a kind of unfiltered bluntness to some of those new ideas, presented in this straightforward song-after-song-after-song manner, that makes them stand up even as their influence has become adopted into the later albums in a more developed fashion. It is still, to some degree, simply a transitional record between the band's early cosiness and the more widescreen presentation coming up, and in comparison to their other albums doesn't offer a clearly distinctive touch. But the songcraft is most of the time undeniably strong and that carries The Photo Album proudly over the finish line. Perhaps not one of their most intriguing cohesive statements but as the middle ground between a great album and a greater album, you're getting into something great regardless.

Physically: Jewel case with a fairly standard booklet, each lyric getting its own page with a similar micro-close-up photo of a texture like the cover. My copy is the UK issue that was released under Fierce Panda instead of Barsuk, so I'm not sure if the original pressing had something nifty going on in its booklet like all the other Barsuk releases have had.


TRANSATLANTICISM

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2003 9 "The New Year", "Title and Registration", "Transatlanticism"

1) The New Year; 2) Lightness; 3) Title and Registration; 4) Expo '86; 5) The Sound of Settling; 6) Tiny Vessels; 7) Transatlanticism; 8) Passenger Seat; 9) Death of an Interior Decorator; 10) We Looked Like Giants; 11) A Lack of Color

The definitive 2000s indie rock sound, as laid out by the album that set the rules. This is what Death Cab have been building towards.

Something's obviously different right from the beginning. After a brief ambient buzz, "The New Year" bursts forward with crashing cymbals, a dominating drum pattern and rushing guitars. It's the first time Death Cab haven't opened an album with a slow and ponderous mood piece, something gently unwraps the album while it's the second or even third song which finally pushes the momentum. Here the usual pattern is reversed, with "The New Year" first kicking the doors down and the hushed "Lightness" immediately afterwards soothing things down. That there is an indicator of two not entirely unrelated points. One is that Death Cab clearly want to lift their sound to a more widescreen vision, to give their songs a sense of height and grandeur that had rarely been displayed in the previous, much homelier albums. The other point is that they want these songs to impact the listener immediately, with no lingering around where the melodies would slowly wrap themselves around the listeners' lives - things need to grab the audience by the throat right away. Death Cab are hungry and going for it.

Coming to their fourth album Death Cab haven't changed all that much from their previous incarnations: Jason McGerr has now sat on the drummer's chair and become the band's forever drummer, while Gibbard and Walla are both now more fluidly switching between guitars and keyboards as the songs demand it, but generally speaking Transatlanticism slots comfortably in the steady evolution of the group's sound rather than presenting a revolution. But it is the most noticeable jump in style between albums. This was their first album as professional musicians per se, now able to devote all their time to music, and so instead of burying themselves in darkened-up bedrooms and practice spaces when they could scrape the time, they've gained a new drive of determination to push themselves forward to justify their louder voice and growing audience. So much of Transatlanticism aims to impress the listener, to catch them by surprise and to make them pay attention. You can hear it in the sky-scraping guitars of "The New Year" and the dramatic quiet-loud jumps on "Expo '86" (exhilirating and anthemic) and "Tiny Vessels" (devastating and vicious), and in the unashamed and bashful ba-ba-bas of the sunshine pop of "The Sound of Settling"; it's even evident in the running order where songs seamlessly transition from one another as a classic sign of musicians aiming for something greater than the sum of the parts, including the aforementioned ambient buzz which both opens and closes the record to form an infinite loop to award those who pay attention. The eight-minute title track may not be the longest song Death Cab have released so far (it's been just pipped to the post by the long jam outro of "Stability") but it's certainly the most grandiose, transitioning the powerfully forlorn prologue to the cinematic showstopper crescendo of voices and instruments joining to form a singular overwhelming wall of sound. It's like something clicked one day and the band realised they can move people, and so they set out to move them by sharpening their approach and reaching for something greater.

The big gestures aren't just window dressing, the songs are built around it. The band released the demos of the entire album as part of the 10th anniversary reissue festivities in 2013 and it's a genuinely interesting set of early takes in many ways, but it's also clear that Gibbard's goal from the start was to drive his songwriting further (perhaps inspired by the radically different writing approach he was undertaking for The Postal Service's Give Up at the same time): even a bulk of the demos sound more immediate and exploratory of different dynamics than much of his previous output. The lyrics and the music go hand-in-hand, with the dramatic twists or emotional weak spots of the character vignettes and first person confessionals being highlighted by sudden bursts of volume or conversely pulling things back a notch at the right time. Gibbard also keeps turning his words more ornate and his extended metaphors more elaborate, and yet wields enough power in his pen to keep them from collapsing under their own weight. Case in point, the atypically long preamble to "Title and Registration" which takes up the entire first verse by talking about the car glove department (really), and yet that painfully, almost overlaboursomely mundane introduction is the perfect unassuming introduction for the gracefully growing song to start building from, both in its central story and its hypnotic arrangement that moves from rustic drum loops to a wistfully blossoming moment of graceful soaring. The songs are more meticulously constructed to resemble miniature setpieces that tell a tale in sound alone if need be, and it works so beautifully with Gibbard's ever-more-precise sense of melody - the songs aren't just more intricately arranged, but each section on its own is powerful enough for the songs to lean on.

All that paves way for Transatlanticism to be a genuine classic. All its superlatives are deserved, as each of its songs unfolds into a majestic mini-centerpiece: that includes the more quietly arranged breathers "Passenger Seat" and "A Lack of Color", the former of which looks upon the stars to grab onto a single still moment of content peace and hits like a punch to the guts in its serenity, the latter closing the record with a gentle acoustic shuffle that wraps everything together softly, beautifully and bittersweetly. Even "Death of an Interior Decorator", which aside its askew drum beat often gets lost in the middle of much stronger songs (the aforementioned "Passenger Seat" and the colossal, furious escalation of "We Looked Like Giants" which thrusts the album down the rabbit hole towards its closure), starts to hit different once you familiarise yourself with the lyrics and figure out where the title comes from. "Transatlanticism" itself is not just the cornerstone of its titular album but it's anchored firmly in the center of Death Cab's entire discography, hitting those chords with such emotional resonance that few songs in their back catalogue can match - a song about distance and yearning for proximity that felt powerful back when I was a young romantic in a long distance relationship, and feels even more powerful as an adult who has drifted apart people who used to be close for no reason apart from life taking you on different roads. There's a lot of incredible songs on the album (and "The New Year" has sometimes shared that #1 slot), but "Transatlanticism" is a notch above, like the entire album was summoned simply to give it a home.

Transatlanticism isn't my favourite Death Cab album but it has become their canonically definitive one amongst the wider audience, and for a good reason too. This is, in many ways, the perfected version of what Gibbard and friends set out to unleash when he first began writing and releasing songs; so much so that the band themselves realised they couldn't climb any higher on this same trail even if they tried, and so Transatlanticism also marks the point after which Death Cab would diversify and diverge from their sound rather than try to repeat its glories. It's a hyperfocused, ambitious album which clearly finds its creators taking an intentional great leap forward to grasp something greater, and yet it never loses its intimacy, its personal aura or its humble warmth. It's so indie 101 that it's practically a cliché to rave about it, but it proves time and time again what an essential journey it is.

Physically: Standard jewel case, with a lyrics booklet. Nothing too fancy going on with this booklet despite the prior Barsuk releases often offering something neat: the only novel thing is how the liner notes begin as a standard booklet with pages and all, but the lyrics section folds out. It's a little more awkward than it reads.


Other releases


YOU CAN PLAY THESE SONGS WITH CHORDS

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1997 7 "That's Incentive", "Wait", "Army Corps of Architects"

1) President of What?; 2) Champagne from a Paper Cup; 3) Pictures in an Exhibition; 4) Hindsight; 5) That's Incentive; 6) Amputations; 7) Two Cars; 8) Line of Best Fit; 2002 Reissue Bonus Tracks: 9) This Charming Man; 10) TV Trays; 11) New Candles; 12) Tomorrow; 13) Flustered/Hey Tomcat!; 14) State Street Residential; 15) Wait; 16) Prove My Hypotheses; 17) Song for Kelly Huckaby (Facts Version); 18) Army Corps of Architects

Some early demos, and if you're listening to the now-canonical expanded edition, a bunch of surprisingly interesting early rarities to go with them.

Back in 1997 Death Cab for Cutie was just Ben Gibbard recording scruffy demos onto a cassette, developing his voice as a songwriter in humble conditions. You Can Play These Songs with Chords was a limited issue release of one such set of demos and it became wildly more popular than Gibbard had anticipated in more ways than one. In the real world of the late 1990s, its success inspired Gibbard to ask his friends to start a band with him so he could play those songs live, properly setting the good ship Death Cab in motion. From a wider influence perspective, whilst Death Cab in general have done a great deal to shape the post-2000s indie rock sound I would argue that the root of that legacy begins here already - at least if we go by how many demo-stage Bandcamp and Soundcloud (or Myspace...) artists I've heard over the years who've seemingly treated this EP and Something About Airplanes as instruction manuals.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, lest we forget these are a selection of early demos at the end of the day and that's what they should be considered as, as well. Most of the songs on You Can Play These Songs with Chords would also end up on Something About Airplanes and as by and far identical versions beyond the minor improvements in recording quality on the album (and on that note, the sound on this isn't too bad, in case the "demo" moniker has made anyone concerned - it's just comfortably lo-fi). The deviations tend to be more coincidental than anything, like the brief tempo drops on "President of What?" which in no way sound intentional. If you're a fan of the material on Something About Airplanes (which I'd wager anyone who listens to this has heard already, unless you're really hardcore about chronological listening), it's the same songs; and on that same note, you can understand why this tape did create a minor excited buzz. Out of the three songs unique to this EP, "Two Cars" and "Hindsight" are more of the same forlorn mid-tempo indie melancholy that was the central pillar of this era of Death Cab, but the songs simply aren't as good as the others and it's obvious why they were dropped in favour of other material for the debut album (neat keyboard part on "Two Cars" though). "That's Incentive", on the other hand, positively comes out of nowhere with its blinding energy and power. It's almost punk-like and you could practically call it a precursor to the more muscular strain of emo rock that deviated from the rest of the midwest indie scene over the course of the 2000s. Death Cab have never sounded as intensively energetic as they do on "That's Incentive" - they've been plenty energetic, sure, but not with this kind of aggressive kick to it - and it's almost like a what-could-have-been glimpse of an alternative evolutionary path for the band. Plus it's just a great damn song, punching in at only around two minutes but leaving the biggest impression out of anything on the EP. Where did this Death Cab go when Gibbard actually got a band together?

But let's face it, though the first eight songs are a nice thing to have for the big fans, the real reason why this disc should be on anyone's radar is the ten bonus tracks that were included when the EP (album?) was reissued in 2002. Given Death Cab's growing popularity Barsuk set out to reissue the original demos which had previously been only available on cassette, but charging full price for a bunch of scruffy recordings (most of which most could already be found as improved versions on the readily available debut album), they expanded the tracklist and turned this into a haphazard rarities compilation for the first couple of years of the band's activity: the ten additional songs in the now-canonical version are limited issue singles and b-sides as well as a number of previously unreleased songs. Some are just plain and simple curios: the most notable thing about the cover of "This Charming Man" is Gibbard accidentally defaulting to a very awkward Mancunian accent when trying to sing Morrissey's melodies (and he flubs the lyrics too for good measure) and the early recording of "Song for Kelly Huckaby" has a slightly different vibe but otherwise isn't a patch on the version found on The Forbidden Love EP. But then there's the genuinely exciting, hitherto hidden material like the sugar-sweet, painfully twee lo-fi synth pop of "Tomorrow" that's far better than it probably ought to be and "Army Corps of Architects" which is a gorgeous, wistfully scene-setting piece that's genuinely among the highlights of the entire early years period, or the Weezer-esque "TV Trays" and the cheery power pop of "New Candles" (with Chris Walla in his one and only lead vocal appearance in the Death Cab catalogue) which both have a perky momentum that feels even more refreshing if you're listening to these immediately after the relatively placid main album. If you're into the first two Death Cab albums then the stretch of "State Street Residential", "Wait" and "Prove My Hypotheses" offer a selection of outtakes that could have just as well landed on the albums too - the Secret Stars cover "Wait" in particular grows from an initially quaint if seemingly unremarkable start to a really beautiful conclusion that marks it as one of the collection's highlights. And how could I not mention the befuddling "Flustered/Hey Tomcat!" is a casual, ad hoc foray into plunderphonics-like sampling that was practically to be born to be buried deep in the archives, but is the kind of novelty that every rarities compilation should have at least one of and it's got more legs to it than the self-snarking liner notes allow.

Together You Can Play These Songs with Chords and the ten bonus tracks form a vivid snapshot of a young songwriter learning his trade and then adapting it as the vision expands into a full band. The whole set is arranged chronologically so you actually get to hear the growth from the cosy early recordings to Gibbard and Walla first experimenting with the band's form and throwing ideas on the wall while simply having fun, to taking the experience from those sideways tracts and using it to build a bolder vision of their music with Harmer and Good coming in one-by-one. It all averages into a fairly good listen and a strong companion piece to the first two proper albums. It's scattershot by nature but you would expect that to some degree anyway, given what this is; but it holds up a lot better than maybe expected, as well.

Physically: Clear jewel case. The photo on the cover is actually printed on its own separate sheet on translucent film - you only get the solid, defined backdrop of the sky if the sheet is placed against the blank white front of the additional fold-out "booklet", which in turn contains the credits and selected band members' comments on the ten bonus tracks.


THE FORBIDDEN LOVE EP

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 8 "Photobooth", "405 (Acoustic)"

1) Photobooth; 2) Technicolor Girls; 3) Song for Kelly Huckaby; 4) 405 (Acoustic); 5) Company Calls Epilogue (Alternate)

Outtakes from We Have the Facts... and gap recordings before the next album - and outtakes from a great album are unsurprisingly good...

The Forbidden Love EP starts the grand Death Cab tradition of following nearly every album with an EP release of some sort. They are typically - to varying extents - a collection of off-cuts that would normally end up as b-sides for singles from the albums, but singles the likes of what we were used to in Europe weren't exactly a regular part of the 2000s US indie rock scene - and so this was a way to not let good material go to waste. But that said, it's not quite like that all the time and The Forbidden Love EP in particular is more of a bridge between wrapping up the preceding We Have the Facts... era and paving the way to the next. Two of the songs are new recordings which feature the band's latest drummer Michael Schorr officially for the first time, while the others are various remnants from around the album sessions. Together they make not just a fitting postscript for We Have the Facts... but they also hint at the future.

The two brand new songs are served immediately. "Photobooth" is a fan favourite and it's kind of fascinating how it's risen in the ranks: the scruffy drum machine constantly in the background, the sparse verses largely riding on the lazy beat and the slightly out-of-nowhere keyboard swooshes of the chorus are all gently awkward like a geek in high school social, and you wouldn't imagine it as any kind of center piece or lead track. But that haphazard charm plays a big part in just how immediately attention-grabbing and catchy the whole thing is, and it doesn't take long for it to warm to the listener. It's a strange, quirky duck of a song but it wears its affectionate clumsiness as a badge of pride and uses it to hide a meanly well-written pop song underneath, and it is deservedly the EP's star attention. "Technicolor Girls" bears much more of a classic Death Cab sound, featuring a softly swaying melody befit for a movie scene, growing from Gibbard's gentle intro to a beautiful little full-band ballad: but you can hear the band's ever-growing confidence in their own talent and the strength it provides, once again representing a step forward sonically from where they were on We Have the Facts.... The evolution is even clearer when "Song for Kelly Huckaby" comes next, given it's the one song that was originally destined to be on We Have the Facts... to begin with (and an even earlier version can be found on the reissue of You Can Play These Songs with Chords). The waltz rhythm and the woozy synth string lead give it a distinctively hazy tone that definitely catches the ear and sets the imagination off, but good as it is it was the right thing to cut from the album because it feels like a retread of the other material found on it.

The three fully original songs are the main attraction of this EP but don't let that make you dismiss the alternative versions of We Have the Facts... cuts that the EP ends with. The alternate take of "Company Calls Epilogue" is a little more lo-fi and absolutely drowned in echo and reverb, and though the more direct approach taken with the album version was the right call, the quiet fury of the song definitely gains a different dimension from the way its sonics are treated here, coming across even colder than before. The acoustic version of "405", on the other hand, is one of the highlights of the EP. On the album "405" acts like an early blueprint for all the more layered, keyboard/synth-leaning mood pieces that were to come in the band's later years; here, it's brighter and oddly happier as Gibbard runs through that same lovely melody with just the accompaniment of his radiatingly chiming acoustic guitar. It's a lot more different of a re-take than acoustic versions of songs typically are despite not changing the song all too much, but it highlights the loveliness of the original in a different way and stands out. It's a really sweet version and an unexpected key track of this set.

This last paragraph I swear I'm only going to write once because it applies to every single Death Cab EP and I could easily copy/paste it in my reviews for each one: if you liked the album the EP is linked to, you always owe yourself to check out the accompanying EP. None of Death Cab's EP releases are truly essential in the wider discography - their albums are the main thing you should seek out and stick to - but these side releases fill in the gaps and colour in the lines between, while most of the time underlining or expanding on the strengths of the original albums even if the song material isn't always as rock solid. The Forbidden Love EP is therefore... more songs from the more self-assured version of the band who released We Have the Facts... and it continues nicely in its footprints. Perhaps the key difference here compared to the other EPs is that "Photobooth" is still a part of the band's regular setlist and so through that alone this is a little more canonical than the other EPs, but otherwise - it's mostly either more of the same as immediately before or alternative ways of hearing already familiar tracks, and that's just as good as the strengths of the parent album would let you expect.

Physically: Jewel case, no booklet - the cover is just a hard cardboard slip with nothing on the other side (the credits are under the translucent spindle part of the case. After the previous Barsuk releases, that's a little dull!


THE STABILITY EP

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2002 9 "All Is Full of Love", "Stability"

1) 20th Century Towers; 2) All Is Full of Love; 3) Stability

Outtakes that form a deeply affective atmospheric journey when put together.

The Stability EP isn't a stand-alone statement: all its three songs were originally released as bonus tracks on various regional editions of The Photo Album and this was just Barsuk's way of getting them out for a wider audience after the matter. Still, it does make for a very peculiar collection of songs in its own right. You can see why none of these songs were in consideration for the album proper (beyond the fact that one of them is a cover) and that's because their whole mood is so beyond the album's overall vibe that it's genuinely surprising they were recorded around the same time. The Photo Album is a very dynamic album, full of sharp instinctual moments that make the album's ten songs breeze by in snappy 38 minutes-ish; meanwhile the three songs here alone stretch over twenty minutes in total. They hover around the listener, their shoulders heavy and their movements slowed down to a crawl in an almost oppressively dense and foggy manner. These songs linger.

"20th Century Towers" is just about the furthest away you can get from an explosive opener, instead staunchly moving deep into slowcore waters. It barely lifts a melody, appearing like a distant echo or a shadow of a song that Gibbard idly mutters into existence: it very briefly opens up when the out-of-nowhere choir springs to life and cuts off all the music for a few fleeting words, and in this context it sounds like a bomb just went off. It's by no means a song that you actively remember in terms of its composition or hooks, but its mere presence sticks with you. The Björk cover "All Is Full of Love" follows and surprisingly her half-ambient electronic ode to the power of love translates bizarrely well into an indie rock form - not that it really resembles anything Death Cab had done before. It's in line with the stylistic experiments of The Photo Album but using someone else's song as the framework. The restlessly skittering drums invoke the original song's busy production perfectly and the murky atmosphere and textural guitar work are back, still creating an uneasy tone around the song. I would say Death Cab have made the song their own but it doesn't really sound like Death Cab either beyond Gibbard's distinctive vocals. His more unrestrained singing in the song's climax is the already excellent cover's inarguable highlight and goes a long way to make this interpretation more intense than the original - in Death Cab's hands this song about believing in the power of love sounds desperate to cling onto that hope.

The main attraction here is of course the 12-and-a-half minute title track that dominates the entire proceedings. "Stability" is an early version of "Stable Song" from Plans and for the first 3-4 minutes it behaves exactly as its more well-known and canonical re-recording, just with the spaciness of the 2005 version's high-detail studio production now sounding a touch more "organic", like the band are playing in the center of an unnecessarily big, empty room. The remaining nine minutes are effectively and instrumental coda, extending the original song's verses into an endlessly repeating passage with a brief reprise of the final verse towards the end, almost as an afterthought after the main microphone had already been disconnected. It finds Death Cab locking onto a groove, but the groove in this case is a gentle dream-like swoon that's too delicate to let go of. I knew "Stable Song" before I heard this and it's a song I had already become intimately familiar with and which I love deeply - so while some could call the "outro" of "Stability" needlessly long and repetitive, I'm beyond happy to spend more time in the beautiful musical section which I already adored. The Plans version is the definitive one, but "Stability" is a wonderful cloud of hazy sound to get lost in which sometimes is exactly the thing you need. Where the first two tracks kept tightening the tension around the listener, this releases it all in a happy, world-weary sigh and lets the weight fall off the shoulders.

It's a peculiar EP. It's the most obvious set of clear album outtakes out of any of the band's companion EPs, but it has the most unique character of them all. I would go so far as to call this my favourite Death Cab EP, but it comes with the caveat that it does arguably demand the most patience to really get into: it's all mood and vibes, zero setlist staples or obvious hits that end up playing in your head. But for 20 minutes you can find yourself transported somewhere entirely different through your speakers, and that leaves the most lasting impression of all.

Physically: Slim jewel case, and as usual for slim jewel cases there's no booklet or anything - just lyrics to the two original songs and credits for all three in the inner cover sleeve.


SIDE PROJECTS


THE POSTAL SERVICE

Years active: Genres:
2002 - 2006 originally, with anniversary reunion tours since (no new material) Indietronica, synth pop

Collaborative project between Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello aka Dntel - Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) sang backing vocals on the first (only) album and then became the official third member when she became part of their regular tour line-up. Gibbard's first collaboration with Tamborello was singing vocals on the song "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" on the 2001 Dntel album Life Is Full of Possibilities: the two felt they worked so well together that they began to exchange song and production fragments with each other over mail (hence their chosen moniker), slowly building up songs until they had enough for an album. Released to meager expectations, 2003's Give Up became a genuine mainstream success and it's now Sub Pop's second biggest selling album. While the idea of a second album was floated around in the years after Give Up, both Gibbard and Tamborello have since officially confirmed they have no intention to record a second one - but they have put the crew back together a few times to tour the album around its anniversary years, and so are kind of sort of active still even if wholly operating on retrospective glories now.


GIVE UP

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2003 9 "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", "Nothing Better", "Brand New Colony"

1) The District Sleeps Alone Tonight; 2) Such Great Heights; 3) Sleeping In; 4) Nothing Better; 5) Recycled Air; 6) Clark Gable; 7) We Will Become Silhouettes; 8) This Place Is a Prison; 9) Brand New Colony; 10) Natural Anthem
10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition CD2: 1) Turn Around; 2) A Tattered Line of String; 3) Be Still My Heart; 4) There's Never Enough Time; 5) Suddenly Everything Has Changed; 6) Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now); 7) Grow Old With Me; 8) Such Great Heights (John Tejada Remix); 9) The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (DJ Downfall Persistent Beat Mix); 10) Be Still My Heart (Nobody Remix); 11) We Will Become Silhouettes (Matthew Dear Remix); 12) Nothing Better (Styrofoam Remix); 13) Recycled Air (Live on KEXP); 14) We Will Become Silhouettes (performed by The Shins); 15) Such Great Heights (performed by Iron & Wine)

Gibbard brings his top tier songwriting into Dntel's atmospheric electronica soundscapes, creating a legendary synth pop record.

Give Up really is a case of stars aligning just right at the right time, in the right place. Gibbard and Tamborello met at chance during a concert and when they agreed to collaborate, neither could have expected just how well they hit it off with "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan". When they decided to take their teamwork further, it just so happened that Gibbard was about to hit one of his strongest songwriting periods (this and Transatlanticism being released on the same year is a hell of a CV flex), and the casual and unrushed way the two men put these songs together over time with no pressure through their titular snail mail exchanges gave them the opportunity to explore and evolve their ideas organically. Every single piece simply happened to fall perfectly into place in a completely coincidental manner and the result is a real high mark in both artists' discographies - not shabby for a little side project that wasn't intended to be anything as groundbreaking as it was.

Why it's so good is - again - a case of all its base elements finding perfect harmony with one another. Tamborello's production aesthetic is made out of stark and sharp drum hits laid underneath textural atmospheric touches and gentle synth pads - a combination of caressing and striking that keeps the songs on the move while also giving them the feeling of finding a moment of still to float in for a while. That combination happens to work just perfectly with Gibbard's gentle school boy voice: Give Up so often sounds perfect to soundtrack those moments of serenity you experience when you gently adjust to the waking world or conversely as you stay up to enjoy the moment while pushing back sleep, and Gibbard's cushiony vocals are never in danger of breaking that spell, rarely engaging in any kind of wilder vocal moments. He narrates his stories of people lost in their lives and the relationships they're failing to hold onto (with a dash of environmental and apocalyptic concerns for good measure) with clearly uttered, almost detached intonation and it syncs up with the dreaminess of the arrangements around them. The vocal moments that do pop up the most are the backing vocals by Jen Wood and Jenny Lewis, which are in fact the album's hidden ace in sleeve. They add a brighter contrast to Gibbard's voice and highlighting the vocal melodies in a way that genuinely uplifts them, and they're so integral to the overall soundworld of the album that they complete the formula that makes this album what it is; they're so important that it's no wonder that Lewis ultimately became a de facto third Postal Servant.

Another key facet of Give Up is that both men take this chance to play their idea of pop songs - because no matter how much you want to put the indietronica tag over this, you'd be just as justified to call this a synth pop album with indie aesthetics. Gibbard's always been an incredibly strong melodic talent and he isn't adverse to the occasional hook-laden hit in his main job either, but Tamborello's production has unlocked a willingness to take it even further. The prime example being, of course, "Such Great Heights" which alone has ensured both its writers a comfortable retirement and clearly shines as a highlight in both discographies: it's simply a meticulously and perfectly arranged pop anthem, building the tension though its forward-thrusting verses until joyously leaping into the air in that giddily euphoric chorus that really does make you believe in that idealistic love that the song throws itself into. It's a massive song and it's no wonder it couldn't be hidden even though it was stuck in an at-the-time minor side project by two niche artists. The deliriously smiling post-apocalypse floor filler "We Will Become Silhouettes" and the ecstatic "Clark Gable" are - still - among the most disarmingly catchy songs Gibbard's been involved with (not to mention Tamborello) and you can practically hear him dancing and having fun while laying out those huge melodies across the verses and choruses, and "Sleeping In" is a delightfully sweet piece of bedroom dream pop that practically unconsciously pulls you into a little body sway and groove as it floats on with its woo-hoo-hoos (though its well-intentioned but amateurishly clunky lyrics about daydreaming a better world are probably the album's weakest point). Though my favourite in this regard is "Nothing Better", a classic big pop moment duet where Gibbard and Wood trade off differing points of view and messily break down the breakdown of the characters' relationship on top of one of the album's most captivatingly growing and immediately grabbing arrangements. It's like a great TV show character piece episode that gets better the further it develops, with each comeback and counterpoint delivered through a stand-out melodic hook. This is the quietly - and counter-intuitively - experimental side of Give Up, giving its creators a chance to stretch their stylistic wings in a blank slate setting and they're clearly immensely inspired to do so.

But if you were to ask what makes Give Up special to me in particular, it's the songs where the dueting partners are Gibbard and Tamborello's production. Neither half of the collaboration ever overtakes the other throughout the record (quite literally too, with so many extended instrumental passages scattered throughout) and it's clearly a product of team work, and it's where those two sides pull power from one another that are its most poignant. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" is in my books the definitive Postal Service song, quietly and patiently drawing the album's doors open with its ambient passages and Gibbard setting the scene for the eventual dramatic pull: which is then signalled by the production kicking up a notch, becoming a flurry of hurried beats and layered vocals that opens the song in widescreen so breathtakingly it's never lost its sense of wander. Meanwhile the drowsy ambient corridor of "Recycled Air" leans most openly into the Dntel album sound with Gibbard's crooning distantly radiating from its center, with an atmosphere so hazy you could get lost in it.

But you need to talk about the real barrage of a song trio that the album closes with. "This Place Is a Prison" ignores the record's generally dusk-radiant colours and takes a darker shift, giving the alcohol-soaked lyrics a pit to drown in - it's also one of the few songs on the album to feature live drums atop of the programmed beats and when they arrive, their hardier strikes come across downright oppressive. "Brand New Colony" pulls the listener out of the pit and back into the light, sounding downright manic in its declarations of devotion as the production zooms across the room like a supersonic hedgehog and Gibbard breathlessly throws a line after another like he only has a minute to live. But that chaos sounds life-affirming, like the same character from "This Place Is a Prison" decided enough is enough, had a It's a Wonderful Life style revelation and is now making up for lost time and opportunities; eventually the song builds up to a glorious finale that ascends towards the skies, its heartbeat slowing down in a hopefully optimistic fashion and the guitar lines and synths circling the vocal harmonies in what is possibly the album's single best moment. "Natural Anthem" is effectively an extended coda: over half of it is simply spent running around Tamborello's production wizardry, the production and arrangement exhibiting that trademark indietronica flutter before Gibbard appears for a brief verse to say goodbye on his part. The more years I've spent with Give Up, the more its final steps have become its most vital and definitive - it's a hell of a great way to end an album, to say the least.

The most striking thing overall about Give Up is that twenty-odd years later it still sounds completely singular, in a world it has absolutely no reason to. I called it "groundbreaking" earlier but it wasn't really: indie and alternative musicians had played around with electronic sounds way before this. But not quite like this and when Give Up became a freak runaway success it basically created the sound we now mostly associate with "indietronica" and more directly inspired countless albums and artists. You could even stretch the point toargue that as bedroom musicianship has evolved to fully studio-set sound quality thanks to advancements in home recording technology, more and more artists are using the blend of singer/songwriter and synthetic production that characterises Give Up as their default modus operandi and you wouldn't have to dig too deep into their DNA to find the direct link. The point is, a lot of stuff has either been inspired by or directly imitated this album - and somehow it still stands up as a unique beast that does this whole thing the best in a manner that no one's ever quite been able to repeat. It's a true moment of capturing lightning in the bottle and no one has ever quite figured out how to trap it there again like Gibbard and Tamborello did. Only some of that is directly down to the sound itself; the rest of it lies in how that combines with the intricate strongwriting and sharp performances and how all that comes together makes Give Up such a hypnotic, captivating world to step into. It also beats the curse of side projects and has long since proven to be just as essential as any of the best albums the members of Postal Service have released with their primary projects - in all honesty, it feels a little unfair to even lump this down simply as a "side project".

Finally, time to talk about the copy I actually have which is the 10th anniversary deluxe reissue. Besides the usuals and the neat-to-haves (remasterered main album, excellent packaging and a replica of the original booklet separate from the reissue-specific booklet), you've got the absolutely brilliant bonus disc that's about as comprehensive a companion as you could want. Most importantly every single additional studio track released during the initial album campaign is here, from b-sides to random soundtrack and compilation cuts. These by and large continue the album's winning streak, but were left out either because they're more like production experiments or simply wouldn't have fit in the flow. In the former department there's "There's Never Enough Time" where Gibbard only appears for a fleeting, short mantra-like verse amidsts a bouncily frolicking bleep-bloop-beat, and "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" where half the song rides on top of a shuffling sampled drum loop and the other half is a minimalist, textural whisper where the wordless vocal harmonies take precedence over the once-again sparsely written verses. On the other hand the joyously colourful burst of "Be Still My Heart" could easily have been on the album based on its strength alone (easily the strongest off-cut) if not for the fact that other songs on the album effectively occupy the same spot but with a bigger presence, and "Grow Old With Me" is a gorgeous ballad lullaby that bears a genuine sweetness but which wouldn't have slotted on the main disc comfortably. There's also a Phil Collins cover (the quite good "Take a Look at Me Now" which surprises with its sudden Latin guitar and drum patter), and the reissue's biggest attention grab i.e. the two unreleased songs. Both "Turn Around" and "A Tattered Line of String" were recorded a few years after Give Up when a tentative follow-up was being sketched out and then left in the vault when those plans were cancelled, now given a slight touch-up before the reissue to make them ready for their eventual release. Both are really good as well, and "A Tattered Line of String" in particular is a propulsively perky banger that could have worked as a great launch single for album #2; "Turn Around" is only slightly lesser and that's mainly because of its a little overtly repetitive chorus, but it also holds up strongly next to all the other material across the two discs. Both songs fit perfectly amidst all the existing material, and maybe that was the ultimate reason why they never saw the light of the day - neither show any kind of evolution and perhaps the duo/trio felt that there was no point in simply repeating what the debut did.

The second half of the reissue bonus disc is dedicated to various alternative versions. The remixes are more consistent bunch than you'd normally expected from a set of remixes, with the kudos largely falling to the idea of recruiting many of Dntel's indie-electronica peers so the reworks aren't too radically different sonically from the original album's production: the highlights here are the DJ Downfall remix of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" which follows the original faithfully but adds more muscle and gives it an additional layer of intensity that works quite well, and the Nobody remix of "Be Still My Heart" which fleshes out the original composition in all the right ways and is actually my preferred version of the song. The live version of "Recycled Air" brings the song closer to Gibbard's main job as it's just him on an acoustic guitar with all the electronic elements removed, and it's a beautifully solemn take on the song. The disc is rounded off by two contemporary covers (which also appeared as b-sides back in the day): to no surprise The Shins' version of "We Will Become Silhouettes" sounds exactly like an early Shins song as the original's bouncy exuberance fits perfectly with The Shins' aesthetic, and the stripped-down and scruffed-up version of "Such Great Heights" by Iron & Wine is a beautifully intimate rendition of the song, turning it into a quiet ballad whispered in the secrecy of someone's bedroom. The whole hour's worth of bonus material is pretty excellent throughout and is a genuinely great listening experience, inviting for repeat plays more than most bonus discs. The only complaint I can come up with is that it would have been neat to have included "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" to round off the entire thing, given it effectively started the whole Postal Service saga and was part of the their regular live set - but that's a daydream bonus, not something genuinely worth raising a fuss about. The bonus disc is pretty much essential if you're into the main album, and like said this ends up getting a spin all the time from me whenever I find myself in the mood for the main album.

Physically: So I've got the 10th anniversary deluxe version and it's a real lovely package. It's a super-thick gatefold package with multiple inner centerfolds, resembling a book with thick pages. Two of its sleeve areas feature the discs; the other two feature, as mentioned, a booklet for each disc, with a replica of the original booklet accompanying CD1 and a booklet of tour, backstage and promotional photos accompanying CD2 (together with credits and lyrics for all the additional songs). Across the three centerfolds you have high-resolution, expanded versions of the illustrated artwork that originally graced the covers of the album's three singles. It's luxurious without feeling excessive or oversized - a really great middle ground between celebratory and comprehensive, and practical from a shelf-management perspective.


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