Indie-rock success story’s remarkable—and remarkably noisy—first chapter
A decade has officially passed since Bellingham, Wash.’s Death Cab for Cutie released its first official full-band LP on Barsuk, and the timing feels right for a retrospective. Despite the impressive commercial strides the band has made in recent years, odds are that plenty of recent converts haven’t yet discovered these early gems, especially the echoing guitar-and-bass groove of album standout “Your Bruise.” Even in those early days, singer Ben Gibbard displayed a brilliant intuitive sense of cadence and melody that set him apart from the rest of the bespectacled indie-rock pack. There was an emotional drama boiling over the edge of each indelible hook and elongated vowel.
Calling this reissued edition of the band’s obstinately lo-fi
masterpiece Something About Airplanes “deluxe,” however, might strike
the faithful as somewhat tongue-in-cheek. After all, the album sounds
like it was recorded to worn-out cassette on a thrift-store boombox
inside a massive, gutted, tin-walled, concrete-floored warehouse (and
all this time I thought it was just the pitiful-quality MP3s I
downloaded off Napster circa 2000 when I first caught wind of these
guys). But even the record’s lo-fi edge can’t fully distract from the
incredible songwriting and melodic sense captured on Airplanes.
album possesses the catalytic urgency of Death Cab’s early live shows.
In case you didn’t happen to reside in the Emerald City in the late
’90s, Barsuk has graciously bundled the reissue with a bonus CD
containing a live soundboard recording of the band’s first Seattle gig
at legendary venue the Crocodile Cafe. While the music is tight and
inspired, it’s endearing to hear Gibbard tune his own Telecaster after
songs and Chris Walla marvel aloud at how many people showed up to the
gig. It’s not difficult to hear the spark Death Cab had early on, and
all too obvious why they caught fire just a few years later.