Death Cab for Cutie: You Can Play These Songs With Chords (Barsuk)

This deserves to be an album unto itself.

Death Cab for Cutie has released a rare compilation, one that can be enjoyed by old fans and the uninitiated alike. Comprising the band’s original, cassette-only, eight-song release, plus b-sides and previously unreleased material, You Can Play These Songs With Chords does more than allow a collector to check songs off his list; it provides an excellent introduction to the band’s wistfully sad yet energetic style.

While five of the first eight songs (including “President of What” and “Amputations”) were re-recorded for 1998’s Something About Airplanes, the differences between both versions are noteworthy. Those familiar with the Airplanes versions might even find they prefer the older ones better. And songs that should’ve been released sooner, like the summery “Two Cars,” are finally available to a wider audience.

The other ten songs reveal and highlight influences. Tribute is paid with a lively, if lyrically inaccurate, cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man.” Death Cab’s punk origins are plainly evident on “New Candles,” a song in which vocalist Ben Gibbard passes the mic to collaborator Chris Walla. The earliest track, “Tomorrow,” surprises with a mild Euro-dance beat and nasal vocals, sounding almost like They Might Be Giants. “Flustered/Hey Tomcat!” is a Negativland-style collage of original music and samples (made without digital equipment, boasts the liner notes). Meanwhile, songs like “State Street Residential” and “Army Corps of Architects” reflect the sparse, shimmering sound perfected on their 2000 album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.

Death Cab fans are probably certain to enjoy some of the novelties on here, but the songs are good enough to make this more than a mere fill-in-the-blanks collection. This deserves to be an album unto itself, giving longtime listeners some excellent songs they haven’t yet heard and giving first-time listeners a solid idea of the later releases they can look forward to discovering.

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