This, my husband’s third guest post, reviews the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Narrow Stairs. Rob’s passion for music stems from the many concerts he attended as a teenager living in a metropolis and his stint as a drummer in a alternative rock band.
The long awaited follow-up to Death Cab for Cutie’s great album Plans is finally here: Narrow Stairs hit the shelves this past Tuesday. Armed with high expectations and the patience a record like this deserves, I am more than ready to give Narrow Stairs a good listen.
“Bixby Canyon Bridge” opens the record and gives you what you know DCFC does best. Ben Gibbard serenades us with his soft voice over atmospheric guitars and scarce drums.
Ah: Death Cab for Cutie. This is what I put the money on the counter for.
Pretty quickly into this beautiful song, though, Death Cab takes us for a different spin and rocks out until the end. Unexpectedly heavy for Death Cab but yet refreshing this opening song hits you right in the face with all your own expectations and tells you to throw them overboard. The sooner the better. This sets the bar high, but “didn’t play like it did in my mind.” What a great opener.
The first single, “I Will Posses Your Heart,” might be the best example of the new and improved Death Cab. A thumbing bass pulls us in to this mesmerizing 8 1/2-minute epic. Then, sporadic piano and waves of guitar noises. About 4 1/2 minutes into this jam session, Gibbard joins in with one of the greatest lyrics on this record.
How I wish you could see the potential
The potential of you and me.
It’s like a book elegantly bound
but in a language you can’t read just yet.
An almost 9-minute song never felt so short. At the end of this track, I want to skip back to the beginning for another listen. Only rare talent produces a song at that length, while still keeping it interesting enough to make you want to listen again.
“Your New Twin-sized Bed” and especially “Talking Bird” showcase Gibbard’s ability to write beautiful poetry into a great song. “Talking Bird” describes a relationship using the metaphor of a pet bird, and while each image undoubtedly holds specific meaning for Gibbard, every listener can see their own story in it.
“No Sunlight,” “Long Division”, and “Grapevine Fires” deserve to be released as singles and give listeners what we know and want from Death Cab. While they tread on familiar territory at all times, they manage to venture into new lands as well: the record is much harsher, rockier, and more adventurous than any of its predecessors. “Pity and Fear” turns into a Radiohead-esque song that you would not expect from Death Cab, who doesn’t copy Radiohead shamelessly, but rather pays homage to another great band of our time. The synth-punk influence from Brainiac, who the band admitted to listening to quite a bit while writing Narrow Stairs, also shines through.
The record ends with the quiet ballad “The Ice is Getting Thinner,” again showcasing Gibbard’s great vocals and lyrics and ending the record on a melancholic note.
Confirming all high expectations, Death Cab proves once again that they are one of the greatest pop-rock bands of this time and I believe their records will hold up even 10, 20 or 30 years from now. The record starts where Plans left off and gives us more than we bargained for.
On top of great lyrics, melodies, and innovation, the production of the record is solid and expertly balances every instrument just enough to emphasize its beauty without covering up the other voices.
Do yourself a favor and add this record to the soundtrack of your life. It needs a little patience, especially if you are expecting the same ol’ Death Cab. After a few listens though, you’ll find it so rewarding and could easily be the best record of 2008. Not that I’m deciding that award this early in the year; There a few contenders for that title already, and next time I will tell you about another one.