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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Death Cab for Cutie
You Can Play These Songs with Chords
Barsuk Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Upon the moment that I heard the opening strains of the C# minor arpeggio that opens the title track to Death Cab for Cutie's We Have The Facts, and We're Voting Yes I became an instant fan. Thanks to the wonders of the digital age I have been able to not only afford my fandom, but I have also been able to veil it in secrecy. Thanks to this here internet, I was able to download rare 7" tracks, live bootlegs, long out of print CD singles, and yes, even a certain out-of-print tape, at a fraction, ahem, uh, none of the cost, and in the comfort of my own bedroom, or office cubicle as the case was from time to time. Fine, ok, yeah, so I abuse/d my super-speedy network connection at work… all the time. I figure as long as I don't get caught, and no one at work reads this, then everything will be fine.

So, motivated by the massive doses of The Real World marathons - that girl was bulimic; who could have guessed - that I ingested while sitting in front of my parent's cable TV and stuffing my face with the first home cooked meal I've had in months this Thanksgiving holiday, I'm going to continue on my confessional trip. I love Death Cab For Cutie. My hard, black, critical heart melts at the sound of their precious pop music and that is no small achievement. I will even go so far as to say that I honestly believe Ben Gibbard is one of the best songwriters in America right now. So the only real question here is not whether I like this disc, but rather, in retrospect, how do these old songs hold up, and is it worth shelling out some of that hard earned and good-intentioned trust fund money for it.

The first eight tracks on You Can Play These Songs With Chords represent the initial batch or recordings for a 1997 tape release of the same name. Re-recorded later, once Gibbard and engineer Chris Walla had confirmed an official band line-up, five of these tracks turned up on Death Cab's LP, Something About Airplanes. Other than some noticeable tempo differences, vocal effects, and drum fills these early recordings remain rather faithful to the versions that you are probably more familiar with. "President of What?" features a slight alteration of its intro and a different keyboard tone, whereas "Champagne From a Paper Cup" and "Amputations" remain largely unchanged, though "Line of Best Fit" seems somewhat less deliberate and washed-out. Here it's "Pictures In An Exhibition" that flouts its latter version with a thinner, reverb soaked presentation, some lyrical additions, and a few vocal harmonies that are not present on the Airplanes version

The non-LP tracks are highlighted by the inclusion of "Two Cars", a must have track for any Death Cab for Cutie fan. Though somewhat less intricate, "Hindsight" proves to be a catchy little pop ditty with a descending chromatic chord progression, and "That's Incentive" reveals some of Gibbard's more punk-rock leanings. Actually, other than the inclusion of tracks from some 7" releases, it is these three songs that are the true justification of the release.

The next ten tracks that fill out this disc showcase different Death Cab for Cutie eras, from a much less refined, somewhat nerdy, straight-forward pop approach replete with incredibly nasal vocal tracks and rather evident, simple power chord progressions, to more recent and substantial non-LP inclusions. The Smith's cover, "This Charming Man" provides an appropriate glimpse into where the band was coming from, while "Tomorrow" breaks out the disco club drum machine and calls to mind images of a Stephin Merritt side-project track. On the backside of that song, "Flustered/Hey Tomcat!" is an equally groove inducing, and impressive, if not a bit self-serving, track that highlights its beat and the tape machine manipulations by Chris Walla. Admittedly, these are songs that I would have considered rather sophomoric in any other context, but here I can't help but feel as if they are rather, well, err…cute, and you have to admit that it's rather bold to risk a shit hot, plateau jumping profile such as this band has on putting some of their lesser songs out for mass public consumption.

Now as to why they chose to include the much more readily available Prove My Hypotheses 7" and not include the track "Underwater" - which, just for the sake of argument, can also be found on Gibbard's recent All-Time Quarterback release in an earlier form - from the infinitely more obscure Sub Pop 7" I can't quite figure out. Still these tracks, with their new mix, leap off the disc in a much more vibrant way than my records allow, and are great to have in a more readily available format.

Capitalistic opportunism or not, for me, and those of my ilk, the chance to replace all those shoddy sounding mp3s with a hi-fi recording of this originally lo-fi home tape is a golden moment. If you are one of those people, you already own this disc. If you don't like Death Cab For Cutie, well, that's a shame, but of course you won't care about this release, which is perfectly kosher, but if you are one of those people who is fraught with indecision about shelling out the dough for some songs you have already heard, some covers, and a few rare tracks, I would urge you to go for it, regardless of its presentation, it's hard to hold a great song down. So there you have it, music review as personnel therapy, and you know, I feel a lot better now that I got all that off my chest.

Reviewed by Mark Skipper
Mark Skipper currently resides in Nashville, TN where he can be found skipping shows, drinking Guinness, making bad home recordings, and complaining about how much music sucks these days.

See other reviews by Mark Skipper



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