Quick Review (LP): The Photo Album by Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
The Photo Album
Barsuk; 2001

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "A Movie Script Ending", "We Laugh Indoors", "Styrofoam Plates", “Why You’d Want to Live Here”

TRACK NOTES

"Steadier Footing" (3.5/5)

  • The "prelude" approach to opening an album.
  • Pleasant enough. I think it’s filler though.

"A Movie Script Ending" (5/5)

  • "Passing through unconscious states/When I awoke/I was on the highway…"
  • Love that arpeggiated guitar. Lovely.

"We Laugh Indoors" (5/5)

  • Like "Company Calls", this is one of those amazingly paradoxical "lite metal" tracks.
  • It’s like that scene in The Jerk – "He hates these cans!"
  • A really great guitar song. Amazing how they can make things so muddy yet so precise.

"Information Travels Faster" (4/5)

  • Reminds me of their first album.
  • Pretty good. Not their most memorable cut.

"Why You’d Want to Live Here" (4.5/5)

  • Solid melody.
  • It ain’t the feature, but it’s a strong deep cut.

"Blacking Out the Friction" (4.5/5)

  • see "Why You’d Want to Live Here"

"I Was a Kaleidoscope" (4/5)

  • Sounds like the early 90’s! Sort of a Pixies-ish guitar figure.
  • Very poppy.

"Styrofoam Plates" (5/5)

  • One word: BITTER.
  • As difficult as this song is to listen to, it’s a stroke of genius.
  • I just gotta show respect to the talent that Benny G. displays here. Not one of my favorite songs, but unique and brilliant nonetheless.
  • Just try forgetting this one.

"Coney Island" (4/5)

  • "Captain, sensors are detecting signs of Bruce Hornsby."
  • For the record, I love The Way It Is, the whole album.
  • Could’ve been longer. I like the melody.

"Debate Exposes Doubt" (3.5/5)

  • Disappointing closer.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Is Death Cab the first band to think to call an album The Photo Album? Even if they aren’t, I can’t imagine anyone pulling off that concept better. While the opener and closer could have been significantly stronger, everything in between is drunk on that rainy day nostalgia that truly defines the band. It’s not their crowning achievement, but as part three in their "opening trilogy" and the last album of the old school Death Cab sound, it gets the job done and delivers some true classics.
  • And I do wonder why they followed We Have The Facts so closely. Surely a little more space would have let this album fill out a bit more? Couldn’t they have put "Photobooth" on here? Think about that song opening this album and "Stability" closing it. That would have been epic and maybe even classic.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

Rockumentary: A Few Thoughts on Hype!

from grungereport.net

Over the last few nights, I’ve had the nostalgic pleasure of indulging myself in the mid-90’s rockumentary Hype! It’s basically an exploration of the Seattle-scene phenomenon of the late-80’s and early-90’s, and while the whole “grunge” style is a bit dated at this point, I was happy to see the movie and music it covers really isn’t. A few (random) thoughts:

— There is something beautiful about the community of youth, art, and music that rises up in cities like Seattle. I was lucky enough to witness the Louisville, KY scene of the mid-90’s. The scene always goes through a phase of inflation where everybody wants a share, but the core community of “believers” always seems to survive and keep making music that only they care about. I wonder if this has stayed true in Seattle, or if the grunge movement, and subsequent successes of Death Cab and Sub Pop-acts like The Shins & Fleet Foxes has “ruined” the Seattle-scene?

— I really appreciated that the movie didn’t “preach” about the way money ruins everything. It’s definitely there as a theme,  but it’s almost handled as something to get over, an inevitable fact of life.

— I now officially miss the Pacific Northwest like crazy. The scenery played a huge part in making this such an authentic film. It really feels home-grown and true to the spirit of the region. The greater Seattle area is simply one of the most glorious places in the world.

— Come to think of it, I’d love to see a sequel to this film at some point, especially representing latter day successes like Death Cab For Cutie, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse. There continues to be a steady stream of  great bands issuing from this region (especially when you include Vancouver, BC), so it would be interesting as a continued exploration of what makes the kids tick up there.

— Post-to-come: My Top 10 Pacific Northwest LP’s.

Check out a clip of the film here:

Top 10 Tracks: Death Cab For Cutie (part 1)

Here’s part 1 of my top 10 Death Cab for Cutie tracks, in no particular order…

Grapevine Fires: This is the strongest track on their last album. It’s a serious stylistic change-up for the band, and a total success at that.

Photobooth: It displays all that is great about the “classic” Death Cab sound, and the band gets style points for the clever and catchy use of the click track.

405: The band opened with this when I saw their “welcome home, world conquerors” show in Seattle in 2006. The 405 is the Seattle interstate bypass, but to me this one drives straight into the heart of that city.

The Employment Pages: Close your eyes and put on your headphones for this one. When you begin to float away on clouds of mopey, ethereal bliss, you’ll understand why people go nuts about Death Cab for Cutie. Classic lyric: “We spread out/And occupied the cracks in the urban streets.”

Title & Registration: This hyper catchy tune features a classic Death Cab riff, but it’s the lyrics that ultimately steal the show. The fact that Gibbard can take something as common place as a glove compartment and stretch it into a mournful meditation on love lost as prison cell shows just what kind of talent we are dealing with. Simply put, this is masterful songwriting.

Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant EP (2008)

fleet foxes sgepFleet Foxes
Sun Giant EP; 2008
Sub Pop Records

My Rating: 10/10

You know we are living in a good time for music when the songs of Fleet Foxes can be brewing in a gawky high-schooler’s bedroom one day and then rocking SNL just a few months later. This five-songer is no mere indication of greatness; it’s pure grandeur itself, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since R.E.M. released CHRONIC TOWN back in the day. There really aren’t words superlative and hyperbolic enough to describe the glories contained herein. “Mykonos” and “Sun Giant” would have been enough as a lead-off seven inch, but rounding it out with the other three tracks is like Christmas when you were seven raised to the power of your first kiss. Flabbergastastic.

TRACKS:

1. Sun Giant (5/5)
2. Drops in the River (5/5)
3. English House (5/5)
4. Mykonos (5/5)
5. Innocent Son (5/5)

Sunny Day Real Estate: The Rising Tide (2000)

THE RISING TIDE (2001) – 5: A classic case of a band over-delivering, THE RISING TIDE is by far the band’s most ambitious offering thematically and sonically, turning up every knob to 11 as opposed to the more subdued production of HOW IT FEELS. The problem is that the band had not yet learned how to wear the studio that well, and with their prog tendancies pouring out on all fronts, they come off sounding like a band trying to sound meaningful (“One”). There is at least one monumental disaster, the silly centerpiece “Snibe.” A few of the other tracks, like “Fool in the Photograph” and “Television” sound a little bit too much like the band is borrowing from the bands who borrowed their ideas. But their are some truly great tracks herein as well, such as the lilting “The Ocean,” as well as the beautiful “Tearing In My Heart.” Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that the band here breaks its streak of strong bookends, with two relatively mediocre songs opening and closing the record. The band called it quits after this one, but more things would come over the next decade from this group in various forms.
Tracks:
1. Killed By An Angel (3/5)
2. One (2/5)
3. Rain Song (3.5/5)
4. Disappear (2.5/5)
5. Snibe (1/5)
6. The Ocean (5/5)
7. Fool In The Photograph (2/5)
8. Tearing In My Heart (5/5)
9. Television (2/5)
10. Faces In Disguise (3/5)
11. The Rising Tide (3/5)

album-the-rising-tideSunny Day Real Estate
The Rising Tide; 2000
Time Bomb Recordings

My Rating: 5/10

A classic case of a band over-delivering, THE RISING TIDE is by far the band’s most ambitious offering thematically and sonically, turning up every knob to 11 as opposed to the more subdued production of HOW IT FEELS. The problem is that the band had not yet learned how to wear the studio that well, and with their prog tendancies pouring out on all fronts, they come off sounding like a band trying to sound meaningful (“One”). There is at least one monumental disaster, the silly centerpiece “Snibe.” A few of the other tracks, like “Fool in the Photograph” and “Television” sound a little bit too much like the band is borrowing from the bands who borrowed their ideas. But their are some truly great tracks herein as well, such as the lilting “The Ocean,” as well as the beautiful “Tearing In My Heart.” Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that the band here breaks its streak of strong bookends, with two relatively mediocre songs opening and closing the record. The band called it quits after this one, but more things would come over the next decade from this group in various forms.

Tracks:

1. Killed By An Angel (3/5)
2. One (2/5)
3. Rain Song (3.5/5)
4. Disappear (3/5)
5. Snibe (1/5)
6. The Ocean (5/5)
7. Fool In The Photograph (2/5)
8. Tearing In My Heart (5/5)
9. Television (3/5)
10. Faces In Disguise (3/5)
11. The Rising Tide (3/5)