by Steve Haruch
This summer, I was a guest on the WRVU show Out the Other, and managed--between playing records at the wrong speed and selecting the wrong songs on my iPod--to spin the Death Cab for Cutie song "Pictures From an Exhibition," off their first full-length album Something About Airplanes. (The vinyl is a nice marbled blue.)
Cue harp glissandi and squiggly dissolve as we journey back in time and space--to 1998!
As chance would have it, I bought Airplanes not long after Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album that I was learning by heart. The "featuring members of Slint" era of indie rock had run its course, and a new crop of bands were showing their commitment to melody and songwriting, rather than complex dynamic arrangement, Converse shoes and rhythmic counterintuition. (Well, a lot of the new bands wore Converse, too, but usually Chucks over One Stars.)
At the time, I never imagined for a second that Death Cab would ever appear on Saturday Night Live, any more than I believed there would not be another Neutral Milk Hotel album for 10 years (and counting). Still, I liked Death Cab, though at the time I was probably more smitten by Cat Power's Moon Pix (never saw the diamond commercial coming for her, either) and Pedro the Lion's It's Hard to Find a Friend.
The funny thing about Death Cab, for me, is that they are one of those bands that I can identify, with pin-point accuracy, the exact moment at which we parted ways.
I was listening to The Photo Album. I was already beginning to lose interest in Death Cab, just as the band seemed to be blowing up. (No one said "blowing up" back then, as I recall, at least not to mean "becoming widely popular.") But I still liked them alright. The album wasn't making much of an impression on me either way--everything seemed tighter, more polished, functionally better, but wasn't really grabbing me by the sideburns or anything. Then I got to the song "Styrofoam Plates," and I knew something was amiss. The song felt plodding and self-indulgent, and when I heard Ben Gibbard deliver the line "13-years-old in the suburbs of Denver" like--well, like a whiny 13-year-old kid--an icky feeling shot over my scalp and through to my fingertips like a burst of awkward lightning. I was done with this band.
Not that they needed me as a fan then any more than they do now. They've done well for themselves. Guitarist/engineer/producer Chris Walla once approached a band I played in and asked to record us, so I had the good fortune of spending some time in the studio with him, back when the Hall of Justice (formerly John and Stu's) was in the Emerald City and A-Rod was still a Mariner. I can say he's a fun dude, a stand-up dude and a cool dude at that, as I'm sure his bandmates are as well. (The bass player goes to comics conventions and shit, right?)
I've already gone on longer than I planned. Something About Airplanes will always be a record that I enjoy going back to, and DCFC a band I'll always pull for, even if we haven't been on the same page for some time.