¡All-Time Quarterback!

Band: ¡All-Time Quarterback!
Album: ¡All-Time Quarterback!
Best song: “Send Packing” is brilliant.
Worst song: “Untitled” is the weakest song on a strong set.

Patton Oswalt does a lovely bit on the Phantom Menace and the notion that seeing Anakin as a little kid is similar to seeing into Jon Voigt’s balls in 1974 because you think Angelina Jolie is beautiful. He’s not incorrect, of course, and it’s a common storytelling device. Dan Harmon, on his podcast, has said the same thing about the recently DVD’d Prometheus; watching two hours of prologue that ultimately ends up little like that which we know — the actual aliens of the superlative Alien — isn’t what consumers want. Origin stories work when they are well-done, not when they’re meandering or of a poorer quality.

But, origin stories in fiction are creative works. The actual genesis of an artist’s oeuvre is a different story. I want to watch Stanley Kubrick’s student film work because I want to see his stylistic tools before they made it to the studio system. I love seeing early Louis CK clips on YouTube, as it can be so different and so similar to his current work. As much as I like Stop Making Sense (and I love Stop Making Sense), I also enjoy watching old YouTube footage of the Talking Heads at CBGB’s in the 70s. It’s great to see the germs of the Talking Heads’ style in a different setting, without the accouterments of actual record label people.

¡All-Time Quarterback! is such a thing. A Ben Gibbard solo project — some later Death Cab for Cutie collaborators help out in places — is, honestly, some of his best work. Recorded during the early days of DCFC, the record is often superficial and has a sweeter sound than even Something About Airplanes. During my most serious Death Cab fandom, I sought out the original ¡All-Time Quarterback! EP from Barsuk and fell in serious love.

I’ve said before — though it is not a new idea — that a truly well-written song can be played on toy instruments and a truly talented artist can make great music out of any instruments (the example is John Bonham going into toy stores and booming the “When the Levee Breaks” beat on toy drums. Or the entire Unplugged thing.). The ¡All-Time Quarterback! releases — compiled on this, the full 11-song album — are an example of this. Songs like “Cleveland” are played on children’s guitars, recorded on a walkman and sung sans overdubs. Gibbard’s song is melancholy, despite the major key guitarish work and his sugary sweet voice; it is one of Gibbard’s best qualities as a singer. Other songs like “Rules Broken” is based on an 808-ish — I suspect it’s a crappy Casio keyboard — beat, a simple guitar melody and Gibbard’s easy intonation. It’s the type of song that could easily have been fleshed out with a huge arrangement, but is a narrative song of small-town suburban youth culture. It’s “Photobooth” in its gestational stage. Also, better.

Of course, the best song on the record is the type of song that Gibbard writes and intones better than anyone of his generation (assuming Elliott Smith is the generation before). Album ender “Send Packing” is sparse in arrangement, with duel guitars, no real drums until the final 45 seconds of the four-minute track and Gibbard’s voice over the entire thing. It’s slow to build, with the second guitar coming in twenty seconds into the song after a single run through the melody.

The song echoes tracks from Death Cab for Cutie’s best album (and, of course, “Tiny Vessels,” Gibbard’s most stone-cold lyric) in its lyrical content, as Gibbard simply states the rationales for a breakup, the bitterness therein and his clear reactions to it. “I drink ’til I’m sober/and then start again” is the second line, for example, and the song ends on the magnificent repeated bit “I’ve nothing to say/That we haven’t gone over already.” Like Smith’s “Oh Well, Okay” and “A Question Mark,” “Send Packing” has the trait that the best work of its kind (see: the best lines in Wes Anderson movies) has: It is written in plain English, yet sounds like abject poetry.

This, in a sense, is Gibbard’s origin story. He doesn’t do anything in a way that’s different, groundbreaking or superiorly creative; his work is best because it is relatable. It’s a perfectly crafted bit of outsider art made of regular object. The ¡All-Time Quarterback! record is beauty made of everyday object, both in the abstract (the language of the record) and the concrete (toy instruments, walkmans, etc.). It’s the best type of origin story.

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  • By Pyramid Electric Co. | Albums That I Own on November 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

    […] recorded and yet, the same individual was responsible for both. I find it hard to believe that the ¡All-Time Quarterback! record came out of the same person as that a capella album opener on Former […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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