“Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound
But while you debate half empty or half full
It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown.”
~Marching Bands of Manhattan
Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
A new Death Cab album is coming out this March and this is the most welcome news. What an excellent band.
DCFC was among the first bands I truly embraced, the kind where I had to know everything about them and have all their CDs with me at all times. I’ve never not enjoyed them, I’ve never not had a place for them in my iPod or car stereo. I’ve never gotten tired of Ben Gibbard’s inimitable tone (or his solo work, for that matter). I am sorry to say “Codes and Keys” completely slipped by me, but listening to their back catalog reminds me why this band remains so impressive and worthy of attention. It also reminds me how much of my brain matter is devoted to the creations of musicians, so hopefully that proves worth it somehow.
Few bands are able to grow this well over the years, seasoning their sound without abandoning the perspective and tendency that made them noteworthy in the first place. What a journey this band has had. They’ve never departed from that subtle, muted build, from careful keys and simple, layered parts, from melodies and harmonics that rely on comforting repetition. Their songs are like waves, with this satisfying initial atmosphere and a delayed, lingering impact that washes over you. They’re like a bruise that doesn’t show up until later. They’ve got some kind of mastery of the emotional, epic build – from “Different Names for the Same Thing” to “Transatlanticism” to “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” to “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Just epic, epic songs, in the sort of Greek meaning of the word. Compound the stunning, sensitive approach to melodies with the immense lyrical talents of Ben Gibbard, who has an authentic literary quality, an ability to break hearts in a single scene.
Their tempered brand of indie rock, back when it started, was a premonition of the hipster scenes to come. They were the tastemaker of the early adopters but not because they were trying to be, they were simply playing their sound – and I know this because of how their sound has progressed over the years without losing its foundation. I can listen to the mellow waltzy groove of “Grapevine Fires” and hear early parallels in “A Movie Script Ending,” proof of a style and tone that’s grown more solid and shaped and mature and intellectual. Have they made some filler over the years? Sure, probably. What band hasn’t? Their excellence-to-mediocre ratio is high, and I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon/disagree with your friends than trying to come up with the top 10 Death Cab songs. Their highs are so, so high, and it’s why the mainstream music world has embraced them as this huge band who headlines festivals and gets everyone all worked up with a (rather beautiful) album title and release date.
“Left uninspired by the crust of railroad earth that touched the lead to the pages of your manuscript.
I took my thumb off the concrete and saved up all my strength to hammer pillars for a picket fence.
It wasn’t quiet what it seemed, a lack of pleasantries, my able body isn’t what it used to be..
I must admit I was charmed by your advances, your advantage left me helplessly into you.”
Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes
Their own critical acclaim aside, this band is just sort of a golden thread of the past 12 years or so. My first boyfriend burned me a copy of every one of their early albums, I think I might still have them somewhere. “Something About Airplanes,” “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes,” and “The Photo Album” sounds just like early high school, like being sullen and silent in my basement, like playing it cool in front of older friends, learning to flirt in silence with lowered eyelids and smiles to the side. “Transatlanticism” is an ode for later, creative years, when I danced all the time and wrote in secret and drew with Sharpies everywhere in the hopes of creating something beautiful, something expressive, something pained, something worth sharing. “Plans” came out at a rather emotional time in my life, I can’t really even listen it anymore because it’s so interwoven with past pain and loneliness and loss, but I still do, all the time. “Narrow Stairs” found me grown up, or at least, closer to it, after I’d made some choices and was self-aware enough to see their consequences, my eyes finally opened as wide to myself as they were the rest of the world.
I’ve found this band is one of the best soundtracks for the ambient times, those that are neither good nor evil, those times that simply must pass and can be found full of meaning in their own fleeting insignificance. A good Death Cab song is like a good short story, filling you up with something that’s much more than nothing, something worth pondering, without taking too much out of your brain to process (“Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” “Tiny Vessels,” “A Lack of Color,” “Bixby Canyon Bridge”). A great Death Cab song is like a memory you’re scared to remember, where your hesitate to press play because you know how strongly you’re likely to react if you go there (“Transatlanticism,” “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” “What Sarah Said”). I am listening to these songs now, evoking that strange sort of catharsis only the songs and souls you connect with the most and encounter the least can provide. Lately little else makes me feel. So in the name of provoking myself into new attachments, to new memories, I’m very much looking forward to what Death Cab, in its new iteration, has to offer these ears. I should probably give “Code and Keys” a full listen or two and and see how it sinks in. But until then I have plenty of the past to re-hear, especially from the perspective of writer and singer and creator, and not just listener – what a journey it has been, indeed.
“I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died.
Barefoot in the shallow creek,
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me.
In the silence it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared.
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind.
All the way from San Francisco
As I chased the end of your road
‘Cause I’ve still got miles to go.
And I want to know my fate
If I keep up this way.
And it’s hard to want to stay awake
When everyone you meet, they all seem to be asleep
And you wonder if you’re missing a dream
You can’t see a dream
You can’t see a dream.
You just can’t see a dream.
And then it started getting dark.
I trudged back to where the car was parked
No closer to any kind of truth
As I assume was the case with you.”
~Bixby Canyon Bridge
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs