Compiled from an eponymous CD EP and a lo-fi cassette called The Envelope Sessions, ¡All-Time Quarterback! is, in a way, the “official” Barsuk Records release of these rare 1999 recordings by Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Die-hard DCFC fans likely already own a few of these songs, procured from one bootleg source or another, and may be simultaneously pleased and perturbed that Barsuk has issued all these solo tracks on one convenient CD.
It may also be a point of contention among fans why Gibbard opted not to add these songs to the Death Cab repertoire. Admittedly, they can at times be a little too candy-coated, or a little too unpolished and unstructured; but at the very least they would have made sought-after B-sides (“Underwater” was in fact re-recorded in 2000 for a Sub Pop Singles Club seven-inch) and rarities. There is, however, a strange intimacy that comes when Gibbard sings about separation and a miserable winter in Ohio (“Cleveland”) or a ride on the Staten Island Ferry (“Empire State”) backed only by a tinny toy guitar and a thick wall of background noise. Maybe the songs didn’t belong with the rest of the band because they were far too personal.
So what to make of All-Time Quarterback? Well, the moniker couldn’t be more ironic. Far from hinting at the start of a lucrative ego-driven solo project, it seems to be more of an exercise that put one of Gibbard’s nagging muses to rest and resulted in some bittersweet pop bagatelles: the untitled sixth track could have been a Beach Boys Pet Sounds outtake, “Why I Cry” is an amusingly endearing cover of the original Magnetic Fields tune. But every track, even those laden with hiss and static, ought to prove to be a delight. As for this Barsuk-issued CD, the distinguishing feature is the video for “Plans Get Complex,” filmed over a day or so in London.
Barsuk Records: http://www.barsuk.com