“Company Calls/Company Calls Epilogue” by Death Cab for Cutie

138. Song Nos. 2,048-2,050: “Company Calls/Company Calls Epilogue,” Death Cab for Cutie
We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, 2000; The Forbidden Love EP, 2000

Oooohhhh, Death Cab. I could have sworn I’d already written about one of my longest-running favorite bands but it was just a recent appearance from one of Ben Gibbard’s many side projects. At least DCFC and Postal Service being so inextricably intertwined already dispatched with a lot of exposition, then.

The Forbidden Love EP was my introduction to this band named for a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band song, an auspicious music store find that led me to the quiet, melodic music I had no idea I’d been looking for. Those five tracks are still steeped in the thickly humid summertime I found them in, which makes the EP an escape in the winter and something nostalgically, viscerally immersive once the vastly superior warmer weather settles in. Death Cab was my favorite band for a long-ass time — from high school ’til well into college, when The Decemberists blew my mind and stole my heart so profoundly that they remain a strong contender for my favorite band at almost-37 — and this was my hands-down favorite of their albums the whole time (and still is), even if I could never really put a finger on a favorite song of theirs.

The “Company Calls” songs may be directly linked to each other on Death Cab’s sophomore album proper, which I did gobble up later, but “Epilogue” is also the ethereal capstone to all 20ish minutes of Forbidden Love‘s irrefutable perfection, which is how it’s forever imprinted itself on me. In the way I met it, “Company Calls Epilogue” is lovely as a final bow filled with an echoing regret that gently emulates the lyrics’ melancholy; as the resigned coda to a defiant and possibly drunken tantrum fueled by desperation, it packs a whole new punch on We Have the Facts. Especially since the studio album’s version is the more wistfully wounded of the two, as if it’s absorbing and reflecting on the consequences of its more volatile predecessor rather than moodily closing an intimate block of much more kindred songs.

I love this era of Death Cab so much, and, honestly it’s because of one-off moments like the “Company Calls” arc. Using an album’s structure to augment the impact of a story told in song across two parts isn’t terribly innovative or complex but it’s also not something every band does, just like all the vocal samples peppering the landscape of DCFC’s debut album. Their B-sides compilation album You Can Play These Songs With Chords shows how weird and wonderful the band can get, with glimpses of that playfulness and willingness to color outside the lines being basically stricken from their studio output by the time The Photo Album dropped a year later and unassumingly blew everyone’s faces right off. Something a little different, like two tracks serving as either side of the same coin, is a treat with an emotional payoff born of getting to tease out just a little more of the story. It’s not just heartbreak: It’s self-sabotage. And while the heart bears ugly bruises in its own right, the ego absolutely takes longer to heal.

Beyond all that, though, I took a poetry class my senior year of high school, and soon found that my inability to write in seamless verse had absolutely no adverse impact on how deeply I enjoyed it. One of our assignments was to bring in songs to examine as poetry, and I pored over my lovingly curated music collection (then still in its infancy, though I was already pleased with its growth over the latter half of high school) until I decided on one that was both obscure enough and questionable enough in “Company Calls Epilogue” and its vaguely piscine allusions to the beast with two backs that I wasn’t sure my classmates or teacher would pick up on.

Years of substance misuse (and the memory being emotionally hijacked by another classmate bringing in the ill-timed and disarmingly earnest Get Up Kids anthem “I’ll Catch You,” which collided embarrassingly with my own absolutely legitimate fears of college ripping apart me and my high school sweetheart after it seemed like we’d just found our way back to each other) has robbed me of whatever happened next but I know I pulled off an A in the class (and proved to a room full of people I’d never see again that I was listening to Death Cab years before Benjamin Gibbard and his two bands became mainstream successes), so what else really matters?

Death Cab’s earliest albums — I’d say everything before 2001’s The Photo Album — all sound like warm weather to me, though a few songs sound a little less like heady summer humidity and more like the softer edges of a gently foggy spring morning as the world gratefully reawakens. I wrote the bulk of this yesterday playing this trio of songs with the windows open to the rainfall and petrichor and very welcome signs that March is going out like a goddamn lamb after all, and nothing complements the promise of outdoor-cat weather like the music that sounds like the susurrations of another spring that couldn’t come back quickly enough.

And for my last 12,700 Songs entry before putting my newspaper career to bed, saying goodbye with a miniature soundtrack that feels more like new beginnings seems like the sendoff this transition deserves.

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