I got into Death Cab for Cutie with their breakthrough album, 2003’s “Transatlanticism”, but perhaps a year or so after its release. To be honest, I wasn’t sold on them right away, especially on that of the voice of frontman, Ben Gibbard. It took me a while to get used to, most definitely a few spins in my CD carousel. By the time 2005 rolled around and the band unleashed “Plans” upon the world, however, I was sold. I noted a slight change in sound with that album, from more guitar focused indie rock to something crisper and cleaner with a hint of the electronic. I imagined at the time that Gibbard’s work with Jimmy Tamborello in The Postal Service (whose 2004 album I really did fall for right away) must have informed this change some. I got to see the band live in 2006 while they were still touring “Plans” and was quite drawn in by it all.
Then, in early 2008, I heard “I will possess your heart”, the first single off the upcoming album, and I sensed a reversion back to the mean. This was more prog and rock than pop and electronic for sure. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like “Plans”, no, not at all. It was a great album and a great balancing act. However, I was glad to see that the seesaw was tipping back into rock territory.
I’ve read that former guitarist Chris Walla had been quoted while the band was working on “Narrow stairs” as saying that the album was sounding “pretty weird and pretty spectacular; lots of blood” and further calling it “creepy and heavy”. Weird descriptions for sure when you think of how the final product sounds but I really like the idea of saying that there is “lots of blood” here. I can totally see that. Not that the album is a horror show but how Gibbard and company are always pouring their heart out into their music and putting it on display for us.
“Narrow stars” is a mighty fine album and complete, so it was hard to pick just three tunes for you but here is what I’ve got.
“No sunlight”: As the song’s title suggests, the lyrical themes and subject matter are dark. A cloudy day, tall and modern buildings blacking out light, the loss of innocence, the letting loose into independence, and finding oneself losing their ideals and dreams and optimism. Gibbard’s fresh-faced delivery makes you believe he is/was that way, which makes it all the more real and dire. And yet… and yet… the track is a boppy and toe-tapping number that weighs in at just two and half minutes, like a sniper attack aiming right for the heart. Yeah, it’s total Brecht.
“You can do better than me”: You want to talk heartbreak and self-deprecation? Check these lyrics out: “We’re starting to feel we stayed together out of fear of dying alone. I’ve been slipping through the years. My old clothes don’t fit like they once did so they hang like ghosts of the people I’ve been.” And is if that weren’t enough, Gibbard finishes you right off with this page ripped from Morrissey: “Cause you can do better than me but I can’t do better than you.” And like the last track, this is one short, not even two minutes, practically an interlude. The bass drums just chug along, pacing the organs that sound carnival-like, and Gibbard dances inside the ring, alone, alone, and alone, in a loveless relationship that is like a well-worn circus tent.
“I will possess your heart”: Ok. Here’s something different. The aforementioned first single off the album. It’s eight minutes in length, at least half of it an instrumental intro that throbs and beats itself deep into your soul. Heavy bass and twinkling keys dance and flirt with chiming guitars. It’s a total tease that builds and builds for over four and a half minutes, making you anxious for reprieve. Finally, Gibbard starts in with his obsessive, stalker monologue, words as creepy as those of “Every breath you take”. It’s a song that shouldn’t ever be a single, or a hit single at that, but it did very well, almost garnering the band a Grammy (if you’re impressed with that sort of thing).
Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:
You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.