REVIEW: Death Cab for Cutie: You Can Play These Songs with Chords
Death Cab for Cutie: You Can Play These Songs with Chords [Barsuk, 2002] (mp3s)
Three words? sashaying buff boys
2002 was a hard year for music. Everything became post-something, something-core, or crap-clash, and it was painful to say the least. Turn of the millenium alienation reared its ugly head in the form of a music-listening populace so numb to actual expression that gangs of screaming, crying teenagers were anointed as Emo and awarded the privelege of pissing on the glory of the early nineties with impunity. Hundreds of recording-studio engineers learned exactly how to record a wailing petulant brat insistent on screaming some foolishness about silk sheets and secrets over droning jangle-based dirges. A&R men fell over themselves to sign buff young men whom they wouldn't mind their daughter dating, and these singer/songwriters saw fit to drag their high school poetry notebooks to Sunday afternoon practice. Meanwhile, as the protest music of a decade gone past became ineffectual and not the least bit square in the face of a growing and ominous corporate music revenue pipeline, the children started to scrap among eachother. The coked out Electroclash crowd pounded on their uncle's 808s and korg mini-keys in what turned into one of the most spectacularly hyper-accelerated trends to ever surface and just as quickly drown. Nobody was cool, everything was arbitrary, our saviors tucked themselves into their bedroom studios and quietly imploded. The cumulative effect was akin to watching a wounded child crawl out of an elevator.
At least the drummers were good.
The background being provided, let me rap at you about this new Death Cab for Cutie record. Whenever I think of DCfC, as they are lovingly referred to in the altogether too long liner notes that accompany this record, I think of them as a band that wasn't so much formed or born or even thrown together, but more as a collective that linked arms and sashayed into the room. Not a kind image, I know, depending on your tastes in sissy-aesthetic, but the issue is before us, and address it we must. Even a prefunctory listen to this CD will have you wondering about the ass-grabbing policies in place for this foursome. They certainly fit into the buff young men category mentioned above.
Not to say that I don't enjoy the record, which represents an entirely too numerous handful of songs that didn't quite make it onto any official studio recording. And it's not to say that I did enjoy it, either. This is a real fan's record. If the onslaught of information we encounter daily has taught me anything, its that unreleased tracks are usually left unreleased for a reason. A collection like this, disparate and unfocused, makes the problem even worse. Just like a "Greatest Hits" record (or "Best of...", and don't think that there isn't a distinct and depressing difference twain the two), rarities collections often have a very real coherence problem. The experience puts me in mind of hanging out with your friend from high school who only owned burned CDs and mix tapes, and the whole process of music became ethereal and disjointed in his process.
The songs themselves are simply mediocre. Different versions of already released tracks are sometimes a treat, as long as they are different versions of the songs and not just some tripe that distinguishes itself through an awful guitar tone or flubbed take. That, sadly, is not the case here. The inclusion of The Smiths' "This Charming Man" was met with a resounding "oh.... yeah" upon first listen, and my opinion barely roused itself beyond that. "TV Trays" stands out as an endearing mid-tempo track, as do "Hindsight" and "State Street Residential." The rest of the material is sadly disposable, especially the embarassing "Flustered/Hey Tomcat", which seemed to be included on no other basis than its technical merits.