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  • Death Cab For Cutie Albums From Worst To Best
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The January announcement that the Postal Service would be reuniting for this year’s Coachella has been followed by snowballing PS news: a Give Up reissue, the celebration of the album’s 10-year anniversary, a full reunion tour, replete with album guest Jenny Lewis. As such, it’s the rare indie-rock enthusiast who is not plagued with Ben Gibbard On The Brain. But 2013 is not just a big year for Gibbard’s digital side project. In October, Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism turns a decade old. That album is arguably the record that transformed DCFC from Barsuk all-stars into a band able to headline the Theater At Madison Square Garden. Whether it was the title track’s placement on HBO’s macabre highbrow soap opera Six Feet Under, Seth Cohen of The O.C.’s unadulterated obsession with the group, or countless other contributing factors, that album catapulted the band to much higher levels of awareness, and it serves as a milemarker for Death Cab’s sea change.

There’s always been a relative polish to what Death Cab does. Even on their debut full-length, Something About Airplanes, Gibbard and Co. proved they knew how to finesse luster out of lo-fi, and from there, only increasingly found ways to shine. Their music deals with a lot of weighty emotional issues — feeling like a stranger in your own home, the plundering of familial connections, and heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak — but their tracks tend toward anthemic with a dearth of sonic negativity.

To not rest on sad music for sad subjects is completely natural for a band who named themselves after a song by Elvis-On-Psychedelics act the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It’s one of the facets of the group that endears them to so many — Gibbard’s detailed, sometimes tragic lyrics combined with Chris Walla’s billowing clarity on guitar, and the lulling yet driving percussion. It’s that cocktail that makes the Death Cab icons, and not just another indie rock band.

The excellence of their output isn’t relegated to their seven studio full-lengths, as the band also put out a number of impressive EPs and a collection of B-sides, rarities, etc., You Can Play These Songs With Chords. In honor of the Postal Service’s reunion tour, which kicks off April 9 at the Grand Sierra Theatre in Reno, NV, we’ll take a look at Ben Gibbard’s “other” band — but only the Studio Seven. It’s worth noting, though, that “Photobooth” from The Forbidden Love EP and “State Street Residential” from Chords arguably belong a 10 Best Songs list.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (63)
  1. So basically what I gather from this list is that they used to be pretty good, but they’ve just been getting progressively worse for over a decade. That’s one slow death.

  2. why why why is PLANS so low??????????

    • +1 as well.

      I really liked Plans. I think I was a Junior in HS when it came out, and I just remember having it on repeat in my car all during the fall of 2004. That time is all lumped together when this, Good News for People Who Like Bad News, and Franz Ferdinand all came out, or at least was a time when I listened to those three a lot.

    • +9000

      Plans is actually my favorite album of all time. As in, all artists and time periods, ever. To see it ranked lower than their early work is just no no no no no. As opossum says below, their first few albums just sound like any of the Northwest Pacific indie scenesters of that era. Plans was when it All Came Together (when an indie band perfects their element for a mainstream breakthrough).

      Of course every list is subjective, but even barring my personal bias Plans should be in the top three. It’s listenable from beginning to end, which can’t be said about the generic, occasionally bland early albums.

      • Plans… is not bad. I enjoy Plans. But favorite album… of ALL TIME?
        No offense, but in my (completely subjective) opinion, Plans would struggle to scratch the top 25 albums of 2005.

    • I imagine you’ll make it to Shut Up Dude with 9002 upvotes.

  3. Congrats on getting #1 correct

  4. Is this list voted on? Or is it just one persons “opinion”?

    • This is an interesting idea… there’s been a ton of these “Countdown” stories so far. It would be fun to see how the lists compare if they opened it up for voting. Many could be the same, some could be drastically different.

      Though I suppose that’s what the Rate Your Music database is for…

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  6. hahaha no way Narrow Stairs is almost the least while Photo Album is the second best! Photo Album is full of masterpieces, but just don’t work as an album. But is fair enough We Have the Facts as the best one. Isn’t my favourite, but for sure is the best.

  7. Of course, I finally have a list I feel confident that I can comment on, and it’s pretty much the way I would have arranged it. I might switch 1 and 2, but that really depends on how I’m feeling on that day. Debate Exposes Doubt is probably one of my favorite DCFC songs (though it doesn’t fit in that anti-pathetic fallacy category)

  8. Spot on, besides Something About Airplanes being kind of low. Bump everything down a notch and place it in second and maybe switch Photo Album and Trans

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with these lists. Favorite Death Cab song, guys? I think mine is ‘Crooked Teeth’

  10. Not awesome. Not awesome at all, sorry.

    Transatlanticism should be at the top, and the band’s first three albums are not better than Codes & Keys, Plans, & Narrow Stairs. Their first three aren’t band, but they don’t stand out or sound particularly different from other indie bands of the time. There’s nothing hooking or grabbing.

    Their later work is actually quite awesome. They’ve really grown into themselves, and into something unique, yet familiar and lovely. They aren’t spectacular albums, but they’re solid and function as the expression of a band that knows what they’re doing and how to do it. Maybe they’re getting points against them for this? Which is not awesome.

    Awesome opossum out, and maybe not hipster enough. Awesome opossum needs new Converse sneakers…not! Fuck dat.

    Awesome opossum out fo real tho.

    • Here Here AO. I agree with your sentiments although there are some stand outs on the earlier releases “Company Calls Epilogue,”Champagne from a Paper Cup,” “Army Corps of Architects.” Also their ridiculous cover of “This Charming Man” is deeply endearing.

  11. Is this that Postal Service guy? Meh…

  12. Hey, thanks for the list of DCFC albums in reverse chronological order. When are you going to post the list from worst to best?

  13. Plans and Narrow Stairs are better than you remember them being, especially Narrow Stairs (which I think has a great cover; it symbolizes all the different turns their music takes on the album and how the production is big and bright and beautiful).

    • Best part is Pitchfork somehow had the Narrow Stairs cover on their “worst covers” list that year. Even if you don’t like DCFC, that is not a terrible cover. It is a great cover. So weird.

      Anyhow: “Possess Your Heart”- great song, kind of perfect traditional music video as well.

      Best DCFC song: “No Joy In Mudville”- totally devastating.

    • Yeah Narrow Stairs needs more love.

  14. I’d switch 1 & 2, but otherwise this list is spot on.

  15. This list seems a little more arbitrary than others. Everyone seems to have different preferences when it comes to DCFC and I think that the albums are all on the same level, it just depends what you’re looking for.
    I would put Transatlanticism at 1. Move Airplanes to last because honestly the albums could be anywhere and Airplanes feels least like a DCFC album.

  16. I’m pretty sure Plans needs to be a lot higher. Maybe it’s my nostalgia talking, but that record is lyrically so great and so fucking sad. Ben knocked it out of the park on that record. “What Sarah Said” and “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” make it a fantastic record.

  17. I feel like my relationship with this band is completely different than the writer. I don’t really get how Death Cab have changed since day one. Codes and Keys/Narrow Stairs just as “Death Cab-y” as the early releases. The only thing that’s changed is more polish really.

  18. Airplanes > Trans > Plans > Photo > Facts > Stairs > Codes

  19. I care too much about this music on too personal a level to get into geeky music debates about it. But in the end, after I sat and thought about it for a while, I realized I care about certain songs far more than I do their entire albums. For instance, Company Calls Epilogue feels like it was actually written about a relationship in my life (one that is still ongoing, with the couple having more children). But that’s not enough for me to put ‘We Have The Facts’ at the top. For the record, I think ‘Transatlanticism’ would be at the top of my list, but I’m still choosing to abstain from making said list, or telling anybody else their list is wrong or right.

  20. All I have to say is, “We Have The Facts” is far and above Death Cab’s best album. SG is spot on here. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some amazing standouts from the others: We Laugh Indoors, Information Travels Faster, We Looked Like Giants, etc. I could care less about ranking the other albums (Codes and Narrow Stairs aside…these are definitely at the bottom) the rest are equal in my book. “We Have The Facts” is just solid song writing and musicianship from start to finish. I picked up that album from a small record store in Central Oregon and I was hooked from “Title Track.” I can still put that album on and it gets better with age. It’s moody, it’s depressing as shit, it’s transcendent, it’s everything you want from a Pacific NW album from 2000. I saw them open for Pedro the Lion that fall at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle and they absolutely killed it–will never forget that.

  21. Couldn’t agree more on #8 and #1 (which is mostly what matters) but, so little love for Something About Airplanes, even in the comments? I mean, I wouldn’t want to go around throwing around inflammatory remarks like “if you prefer Narrow Stairs to SAA, you’re not a real DCFC fan”, but… it’s a little bit like choosing We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank over This is a Long Trip etc. SAA maybe was less fully formed than later albums, but By God they would not be the band they are today without getting all that emo urgency and self-gratifyingly and opaquely detail-oriented lyrics out of their system. And while “Debate Exposes Doubt” and especially “Movie-Script Ending” would end up on my top 10 songs list, Airplanes works as an album better than The Photo Album at the very least, IMHO.

  22. Can’t wait for the Postal Service best albums list!

  23. This is – in my opinion – the best way to make this list:

    1-2. Transatlanticism/We have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes
    3. Something About Airplanes
    4-7. Draw from a hat

    Note: Positions 1-3 may be filled by a different album if (and only if ) the list maker acknowledges that their chosen replacement’s positioning was determined by a high school nostalgia trip.

  24. I’m willing to go broadly along with Stereogum’s ordering, but it’s hard to judge with each album having its unique appeal. Although the more recent albums are clearly the weaker ones in their catalogue (Codes and Keys has worryingly little emotionally at stake), to this day Death Cab have never released a stinker. The band’s consistency and willingness to develop is admirable IMO.

    Transatlanticism would definitely be second at the very least, maybe even joint first with Facts. Facts is the hipster favourite (and mine), but I wouldn’t hesitate to admit that Trans is the pinnacle combination of emotional songwriting and rich production. Photo Album deserves bronze: a high Best DCFC Songs Ever quota, but I agree that it’s a collection of songs, not a cohesive experience. Airplanes was straight up formative.

    I completely share the Plans nostalgia with the guys above, yet I wonder whether nostalgia is kind to it. Ben Gibbard took part in a Twitter Q&A a few months back and named Someday You Will Be Loved the worst DCFC song he’d ever written (Company Calls Epilogue the best). It’s a twinkly, trembling album; What Sarah Said justifies that fragility, but its tendency to weep can become too much. Even though it’s far more unkempt, I respect Narrow Stairs for its teeth and willingness to stare into the abyss. Undecided between those two.

  25. Um, this only goes through #4 now?

  26. My favorite are the bottom 3, so I guess I don’t know anything about DCFC

  27. I’m one of the many fans that got into them through The OC. Transatlanticism will always be my favorite album. For me that album sounds like a best of album. Every song is memorable and beautiful. A Lack of Color is, come to think of it, probably in my opinion one of the 10 greatest songs of all time.

  28. i know this has really nothing to do with death cab but, has anyone ever heard pablo francisco make fun of the guy from owl city’s voice? it’s hysterical.

  29. This is basically the first spot-on list I’ve ever seen on here, except I’d flip 1 and 2. I know everybody always loves the first album they heard by a band the most, but if you’re clamoring for Plans to be higher, you’re just wrong.

  30. ‘Plans’ should be number 1.. Great songwriting, lyrics and arrangements.

    Their early albums sound pretty bland to me, like Elliott Smith, minus the good songs.

  31. Spot on list. This is the best list on Stereogum. Anyone disagreeing with this list (except the 1&2 spots, which could be reversed) is a Johnny-come-lately. Just because Plans came out during your first (of many) unrequited middle-school crush… that doesn’t make it their best album.

    • You were in Middle School when Plans came out? What are you 10 years old? And you’re trying to tell me about music?

    • What does it matter when you came to a band? I heard every album they put out within around a month, and I think ‘plans’ has the best melodies, and arrangements (his lyrics are always pretty good).

      If anything, your view is warped by having heard the early albums first, and then deciding to dismiss the later albums because they were more popular/maybe you came in with certain expectations for how the later albums should sound, instead of taking them on their own merit.

  32. This list is so wrong, I can’t even…

  33. I really enjoy these countdowns. I think they’re a great idea and are pretty interesting and I’m always excited to see who gets tackled next. And I’m willing to give the whole process the grains of salt needed, in that these are just one person’s opinion. Every writer brave enough to put themselves and their opinions out there on limbs like this are brave individuals in the world of online indie rock journalism. I get it and I respect it. And everyone is allowed to have their own personal order and ideas and so forth, thank goodness.

    BUT

    I’m not sure if I can process the notion that “For What Reason” “just might be the best song in their catalogue”

    I mean, personal opinions notwithstanding, come on

    really?

  34. I literally was blown away by two indie bands in my twenties…partly because I had a life and got laid and did not spent all my time obsessing over music…lol…one of the bands that really stuck out for me was DCFC…they have a very unique and distinct sound. Having said that, when I started to get out of the music scene is when they seemed to have released their last two utterly horrific and embarassing records…I was not sure if I was just growing up or not as much into music anymore or weather these albums really were bad…looks like they really were crap…seriously, if you are tired out..why keep making records? quit while your ahead..gracefully…if they had ended with PLANS…they would have been one of those bands you would always respect…but with songs like “Cath” I mean….YUCK

    • Narrow Stairs is one of my favourite albums of DC, and I’ve been listening since I picked up a pre-master of “We Have the Facts…” sitting in Egg Studios in very late 2000. I’d recommend you get back “into music” and have a listen through their more recent additions before referring to them as “utterly horrific”. Seriously, man. Death of a loved one in front of you is utterly horrific, and probably many other things I don’t need to name next to “Narrow Stairs” or “Codes and Keys”… I mean, come on.

  35. we have the facts and you’re listing sucks.

  36. I’m older than most DC fans I know (perhaps all of them) and really my opinion is that you are the same muppet that thinks everything Pearl Jam did after “Ten” pales.

    Put your headphones back on and try again, friend.

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