Where To Start With... Death Cab for Cutie
When the first release from Death Cab For Cutie arrived in 1997, the band wasn't even really a band yet. Comprised solely at that point by The Postal Service's Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie began life as a side project into which Gibbard could channel ideas and songs that didn't fit into his erstwhile group's wonky electronica vibe.
To say their first release was low-key would be an understatement; the self-released You Can Play These Songs with Chords was only available on cassette, and even then in very limited numbers. Barely more than a collection of well-crafted demos, the eight-track EP nevertheless offered some insight on what was to come from Death Cab For Cutie and grabbed enough attention for Gibbard to land a recording contract for his new project with Seattle-based indie label Barsuk Records. All he needed now were some other musicians to join him.
Recruiting bassist Nick Hamer, drummer Nathan Good and guitarist/vocalist Chris Walla, the band set about writing and recording material for their debut album proper, Something About Airplanes, which made its arrival in 1998. The album was well-received by critics, as were its follow-ups, 2000's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes and 2001's The Photo Album, but it wasn't until their fourth album Transatlanticism arrived in 2003 that the band really began to break through, thanks in part to its songs being licensed to the Fox network's teen drama The O.C., which helped the band break into the Billboard Top 100 for the first time.
A major label deal with Atlantic Records followed and the band's popularity began to rocket, climbing to No. 4 in the Billboard charts with the platinum-selling Plans and scoring their first real hit singles with tracks such as 'Soul Meets Body' and 'I Will Follow You into the Dark'. They went one better with its follow-up Narrow Stairs, topping the album chart for the first time in US as well as scoring their first Top 40 album in the UK.
In 2007 the band released their seventh full-length offering Codes & Keys, but while the album was a near-match for its predecessor in terms of commercial success, the shift away from a guitar-centric sound led some fans to wonder if the band was losing its way creatively. By now, Walla had become as much of an integral part of Death Cab For Cutie as Gibbard, sharing songwriting duties on an almost equal footing with the band's frontman and having served as producer on all the band's albums to date, but the band agreed that a change in producer for there next record might be a good way to freshen things up.
Los Angeles-based producer Rich Costey, who at that point already had an impressive CV including albums by Muse, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol, was recruited to work with the band on their eighth album. However, while Walla was involved throughout the album's recording process, in 2014 he announced that after 17 years as a member of Death Can For Cutie, he had decided to part ways with the band. Their Costey-produced eighth album Kintsugi arrived in March the following year, earning them a Grammy nomination in the process.
This week sees the band return with their ninth LP Thank You For Today, their first without Walla since their debut and the first to feature new recruits Dave Depper and Zac Rae. Rich Costey has been retained as producer for the new album, and if there were any doubts about Gibbard's ability to continue without his former songwriting partner, lead-of single 'Gold Rush' should have helped to quench some of those nice and early, surging its way to the top of Billboard's 'Triple A' chart and delivering one of the band's most instantly memorable tunes in years.
You can find the video for 'Gold Rush' below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from the band's career so far...
'Company Calls / Company Calls Epilogue'
Featured on the band's second album We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes, this two-parter is arguably the real highlight of their sophomore LP. Like the rest of the album, 'Company Calls' is a more ragged version of Death Cab For Cutie than we know today, but there are still clear signs of Gibbard's songwriting talent even at this early stage.
'We Looked Like Giants'
Fourth album Transatlanticism marked a turning point for the band's commercial fortunes and while we could have picked the better-known singles 'The Sound of Settling' or 'Title & Registration', it's this deep cut tucked away near the album's closing moments that really stands out.
'Soul Meets Your Body'
Of all the great moments on the band's fifth album Plans, 'I Will Follow You into the Dark' is perhaps the album's best-known song, but there isn't much daylight between that and 'Soul Meets Your Body', which is, for our money, the standout moment on what was undoubtedly the band's most accomplished record to date.
'I Will Posses Your Heart'
With the band at the peak of their creative and commercial powers, their sixth album Narrow Stairs was their most assured yet and the Grammy-nominated 'I Will Posses Your Heart' has probably become the band's most well-loved single, remaining a fan favourite and a staple of their impressive live shows.
Our final pick is this cut from the band's most recent album Kintsugi, one of the album's more downtempo tracks, but also one of its most anthemic. One of the darker tracks on the album in terms of its lyrical themes, it nevertheless showcases Gibbard's songwriting at its best.