Wednesday, July 22, 2020

am@random - Death Cab For Cutie

One of my favorite bands, Death Cab For Cutie reached "such great heights" with 2008's Narrow Stairs, particularly with the song most associated with the band, "I Will Possess Your Heart." While I was a Death Cab fan back as far as the 90s, it wasn't until Ben Gibbard's side project, Postal Service, came along that I rediscovered the band. "Such Great Heights" and "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," were among those great tracks that took me out of my 90s doldrums. On top of that, Death Cab released Transatlantacism. Times were good. 

Three years later, Narrow Stairs would be one of the 00s best LPs, featuring "Bixby Canyon Bridge," the video here, and "Cath." BTW: In 1967, the Bonzo Dog Band wrote "Death Cab For Cutie" for their album Gorilla and performed an Elvis-like tribute in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film. So, no, it was not pulling random words from a fishbowl; Ben Gibbard simply liked the obscurity of the name and the Beatles reference.

Ben Gibbard said of the album's opening track, "Bixby Canyon Bridge," "There’s a real dramatic landscape change two minutes into the song… [it] becomes this big, riffy, guitar rock song… I think it sets a tone for the album that this record is going to be a very different experience." Opening with a warm, faraway tenor and Jack Kerouac inspired lyrics, the pounding rhythm is reinforced with bass and distorted guitar, an effect not dissimilar to the break of Radiohead’s "Creep" (which may come as a bit of a shock for those expecting the same ol' Death Cab). "I Will Possess Your Heart" is equally reminiscent of Radiohead's experimentalism with its hypnotic bass line, see-sawing major and minor tonalities, its echoing piano and looping guitar.

Much has been made of Death Cab For Cutie's sixth studio album as a darker, tougher and more experimental record and after the dizzying popularity of their exposure through TV (The O.C.), on radio ("I Will Follow You Into The Dark") and on the internet, what was previously a beloved indie concern was now getting the widespread fanbase, and recognition, they deserved. The problem with the mainstream is it tends to dilute what was great about an act pre-fame. Narrow Stairs is a reaction against this, an attempt to avoid any of the distillation and "selling-out" criticisms. While Gibbard's lyrics are less elliptical and more direct than previous albums, the music is captivated by the spirit of experimentalism of their pre-Plans releases when they didn’t need to worry about struggling for validation or meeting expectations.

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