Songs for Come On Die Young were written by the band members at home or together in the rehearsal room. Wanting a sparser sound, Mogwai drew influences from Seventeen Seconds by The Cure and Spiderland by Slint as well as Low, Nick Drake and The For Carnation. The songs "Christmas Steps" and "Ex-Cowboy" had been played live by the band during the tour for Mogwai Young Team. The album was recorded in three weeks at Tarbox Road Studios in Cassadaga, New York with producer Dave Fridmann and was the first Mogwai recording to feature multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns. The original intended running time of the album was extended after Mogwai's record label, Chemikal Underground, persuaded them to include more of the songs they had recorded.Come On Die Young is somewhat different from the rest of Mogwai's work because of its reserved tone. The album's second track "CODY" is much more like a traditional pop song than most of the band's repertoire. Still slow and sinuous, it features an uncharacteristically distinct melody, slide guitar and relatively prominent vocals. Much of Come On Die Young consists of slow, quiet, drum-driven tracks containing tense, feedback-laden crescendos and occasionally ambient textures. Near the end of the album, the bombastic "Christmas Steps" breaks away from this quiet tension and displays a return to Mogwai's more well-known distortion-heavy dynamics. The album's title derives from a Glasgow gang of the same name.
Come On Die Young received a somewhat muted reception when compared to Mogwai Young Team. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing for AllMusic, wrote that "perhaps Come On Die Young wouldn't have seemed as disappointing if it hadn't arrived on the wave of hype and expectation, but the truth is, it pales in comparison to their own work."