learning love songs

est. 2008


Death Cab For Cutie


What a pretty little sad surf-rock song this is, one of my fastest favorites on “Kintsugi.”

My high hopes for this new Death Cab for Cutie album, I’ll admit, were a little too high. I’ve gone back to it once or twice loving the colors and the tones, but I can’t put this on par with “Plans,” or even “Narrow Stairs.” The album, for me, starts strong and has some really beautiful sentiments and the kind of thoughtful takes I expect from this band – as well as musically cool moments – but I’m  not sure if it presents a new landscape or treads new territory, as past albums accomplished. I hope this takeaway fades and changes in time, I hope some day on some drive the whole thing just clicks into place for me, but I’m not there yet….that said, who in the the pop-indie realm these days writes better songs than Ben Gibbard? That said, this is so far one of the most solid, clear-eyed and composed albums of the year, from one of the most reliable bands of the decade.

I like the guitar tones on this entire album, they’re just-so resonant, just-so round and occasionally a little groovy in a 90s radio rock sort of way. The subtle digital manipulations,like on “Black Sun,” are a modern touch, the piano work is both expected and refreshing. Gibbard’s voice here is as mature and sure of itself as I’ve ever heard it, owing its presence to the song and its melody instead of simply delivering his words in his way. This, I think, is a learned skill. Lyrically, he is still a sad sack of hipster, the OG of the genre, as it were, and I can not, will not, get enough. His perspective switches from the internal to the wide-angle track by track, it seems, even verse-by-verse, and this is how he has written as far back on “Something About Airplanes.” But their is obvious maturity, and it’s not just in giving up the raspy falsetto, it’s also in in the reflection.

Can we pinpoint when this band became so good with hooks? Maybe they always were, but I never thought of them as writing chorus-driven songs and that is what this album is full of. Is this regression, or progress or songwriting? Regardless, I like this one from “Little Wanderer” in particular, it’s so melodic for a sad little song. I like how this song This song hangs tight in the present, it wistfully dwells on the past, it longs for the future. Also, I am sucker for any airport reference (and not just because my new line of work involves understanding them, but because of those feelings of love and hope and solitary contentment they can provide).

Yesterday I leaned Death Cab will be in town in September, and I’d be foolish to not try to make that happen. My slightly  dashed hopes on the record from won’t keep me from feeling optimistic that this could be, would be, should be a show to remember. I’d rather have something to look forward to, than go in thinking this band I’ve held in high regard for so, so many years would disappoint me with their seasoned performance. From what I understand, they are pretty fucking fantastic. Do they still play “Transatlanticsm?” Oh well, even if not, I would not mind hearing this newest collection in its fullest form. Maybe by then, these songs will have gelled a little more with my ears and my mind, as I slowly detatch from the old assumptions of what a DCFC record is supposed to be. Maybe by then, I can begin to embrace and understand the one they’ve chosen to produce, and maybe, by then, I will have learned a little something about growth in the process.

“You sent a photo out your window of Tokyo
Told me you were doing fine
You said the cherry blossoms were blooming
And that I was on your mind
But I couldn’t make you out through the glitches
It’s how it always seems to go
So we say our goodbyes over messenger
As the network overloads
When the network overloads

You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Off across the sea
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Won’t you wander back to me
Back to me.

Always fall asleep when you’re waking
I count the hours on my hands
Doing the math to the time zone you’re at
Is an unseen part of the plan
But if you’ll be my bluebird returning
Then I’ll be your evergreen

Standing tall on your horizon
Guiding you home to me,
Guiding you home to me.

You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Off across the sea
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Won’t you wander back to me
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
How I wish that you could see
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
How I need you back with me
Back with me.

You sent a photo out your window of Paris
Of what you wish that I could see
But someone’s gotta be the lighthouse
And that someone’s gotta be me

And I hope your absence makes us grow fonder
I hope we always feel the same,
When our eyes meet past security, we embrace in the baggage claim,
When we kiss in the baggage claim.

You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Off across the sea.
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Won’t you wander back to me,
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
How I wish that you could see.
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
How I need you back with me,
Back with me “

~Little Wanderer,
Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi


“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.”

~Title Track
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.
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


Change is a wonderful thing. So are new experiences. And still the shadow of the past follows you around, creeps up around you, pops in front of you in a certain light. No reason to stop treading the path you’re on, but it elicits enough memory to give you perspective.

When the world looks new, it’s almost like living in a dream – every corner, every street, holds the unfamiliar and potentially life-changing. Living in the moment becomes easier than ever when there’s little common ground between you and your surroundings. So, your eyes see clear than ever, your perspective renewed.

What I love about Death Cab for Cutie, especially “Plans,” is the perspective, the way the narrative is a few steps removed from the present. This album has been with me for a long time – the band was an early high school favorite, and this album saw me through so many life transitions. Once again I find myself spinning Plans, playing and singing along, aging along with the album. It’s a wonderful accompaniment for the moments you want to spend living in your head, a safe harbor to find yourself when your surroundings are entirely brand new.

“Burn it down till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new when your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue

Home’s face: how it ages when you’re away
Spring blooms and you find the love that’s true
But you don’t know what now to do
Cause the chase is all you know
And she stopped running months ago

And all you see
Is where else you could be
When you’re at home
Out on the street
Are so many possibilities
To not be alone

The flames and smoke climbed out of every window
And disappeared with everything that you held dear
And you shed not a single tear for the things that you didn’t need
‘Cause you knew you were finally free

‘Cause all you see is where else you could be when you’re at home
Out on the street are so many possibilities to not be alone

And all you see is where else you could be
When you’re at home
There on the street are so many possibilities to not be alone”

~Your Heart is an Empty Room
Death Cab for Cutie, Plans


Someone I love told me something really freakishly beautiful once. Something about how souls are like glasses of water, and once you combine them, you’ll never be able to separate them again, because if you pour them back into glasses, it’s not the same glass of water you had before.

It is a different temperature. Maybe a different color. Different elements than before, added or diluted or filtered. 

“The Atlantic was born today and I’ll tell you how…The clouds above opened up and let it out.

I was standing on the surface of a perforated sphere
When the water filled every hole.
And thousands upon thousands made an ocean,
Making islands where no island should go, oh no.

Those people were overjoyed, they took to their boats.
I thought it less like a lake and more like a moat.
The rhythm of my footsteps 

Crossing flatlands to your door have been silenced forever more.
The distance is quite simply much too far for me to row
It seems farther than ever before

I need you so much closer.”
Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism

For awhile I trusted in love, in fate, to tell me the difference between what is real, what is in my sad, scared head and what is worth my time….more I see, it is about choices than anything else. What you choose to love. What you choose as your fate. What you choose is right, or wrong. Even still, it’s not all up to you. Something’s got to choose you back.


Something needs to slow down.  I don’t know what, but something. Probably my own head.

I’m always rushing through the rapids, springing from a rock to the next on tiptoes fueled by careful aim. Nothing but that and dumb luck keeping me from getting splashed, and the slightest drop floods me with doubt and defeat.

“We’ll correct collegiate mistakes,
A shower of formal ideals,
Completely soused, 

The hearts on our sleeves,
As they drowned we could hear them screaming,
‘Oh what a tragic way to see our final days.’

I attempt to talk up the town,
‘The answers are in the arches of the 20th Century Towers and in
comfortable cars in motion.'”

So. Tired. Today was a good example. Everyone running around, questions in hand, and I literally cannot string two coherent words together. It’s like my limbs feel too long and awkward, and I woke up with a reach I had no idea how to control. Fumbling, I’m five to five hundred steps behind everyone, and I’m furious for failing at what exactly I cannot say.

I have to believe that it’s all this way for a reason, that I got here by aid of something more tangible than chance. But lying awake, alone for miles, how is that any comfort when I feel like a sympathy case, or worse a coward?

Although, I could make one hell of a sad mix CD back in the day. Surely, that counts for something.

“And yet it still remains, this incessant refrain:
‘You’re just like the rest. Your restlessness
makes you lazy.’

Keeping busy is just wasting time
And I’ve wasted what little he gave me.
All Around
I know the conscious choice was
Crystal clear,
To clean the slate of former years,
When I sang softly in your ear
And tied these arms around you.”

~20th Century Towers
Death Cab for Cutie, The Stability EP


Death Cab for Cutie is sustaining a wonderful career, starting off a little known West Coast indie group and becoming one of the bands that made indie maintstream again. Avid use of DCFC songs in TV and movies – The O.C. and Twilight come to mind – certainly helped spread them to new audiences, but I remember adoring them in my early high school years, with my then-boyfriend burning me mixes of their entire discography to date when I couldn’t find the CDs locally.

They haven’t lost their aptitude for true storytelling, setting scenes and giving insight into what goes on in the mind when confronting a moment. Often reflective, selectively pessimistic, they were ironic and hipster long before it was trendy. I do hope that as the decades pass Death Cab is given their due.

This song, “Photobooth,” transports listeners to a time and a day when lust meant love, when hard edges were inviting, and when meaning was found in the meaningless if only for the novelty.

“I remember when the days were long,
And the nights when the living room was on the lawn.
Constant quarreling, the childish fits, and our clothes in a pile on the ottoman.
All the slander and double-speak
Were only foolish attempts to show you did not mean
Anything but the blatant proof was your lips touching mine in the photobooth.

And as the summer’s ending,
The cool air will put your hard heart away.
You were so condescending..
And this is all that’s left:
Scraping paper to document.
I’ve packed a change of clothes and it’s time to move on.

Cup your mouth to compress the sound,
Skinny dipping with the kids from a nearby town.
And everything that I said was true,
As the flashes blinded us in the photobooth.
Well, I lost track, and then those words were said.
You took the wheel and you steered us into my bed.
Soon we woke and I walked you home,
And it was pretty clear that it was hardly love.

And as the summer’s ending,
The cool air will rush your hard heart away.
You were so condescending.
And this is all that’s left:
Scraping paper to document.
I’ve packed a change of clothes and it’s time to move on.

And as the summer’s ending,
The cool air will rush your hard heart away.
You were so condescending,
As the alcohol drained the days.

And as the summer’s ending,
The cool air will rush your hard heart away.
You were so condescending.
And this is all that’s left:

The empty bottles, spent cigarettes.
So pack a change of clothes, ’cause it’s time to move on.

Death Cab for Cutie, Forbidden Love EP


I like this song, because it is a ballad in the traditional sense.


So I’ve been all over the magazines and blogosphere lately, scrounging for the best of the best of the best lists. Not only is it the end of the year, it’s the end of a decade, the first of the new millennium. This is huge for us living through it. So as music journalists go, we must analyze, catagor-ize, figure out where the pieces of music fit in a grander scheme. Who started trends, who broke the molds, who went for it and got there, no sweat?

The differences in some of the lists are astonishing. I’ve yet to figure out what my personal favorites have been, but I’m pretty sure it aligns with Rolling Stone’s from what I’ve seen so far — no doubt Kid A as their #1 pick speaks to that. As for Paste, who chose Sufjan Steven’s Illinois album, I see where they’re coming from because it is so unbelievably musical, but I doubt the effect he had is nearly as reaching as Radiohead’s. Whatever that means. Additionally, many albums that personally changed my musical life were heard by a handful of die hard fans, like Lovedrug or Copeland or Circa Survive.

Also, from 2000-2009, I grew up from 11 to 21, most of the music I ingested WASN’T of the times. Zeppelin is still my gold standard of rock ‘n’ roll, and Bob Dylan is still a poet — this is music that is not OF the times, but still greatly affected me, a product of the generation. We can’t consider the times to be the only means that shape us — what comes before is just as relevant as what’s happening now in terms of music, at least. It is timeless. Such is the state of many of the records chosen by publications in their valiant listing efforts — timeless pieces of music that sum up a generational attitude, signify a shift in musical priorities and woo their audiences through a blend of new sound and honest surrender.

But we must give any of the list makers credit where credit is due. At a time when music kind of exploded into a billion little markets, it’s not easy to compare the works of seasoned artists against indie newcomers, wordsmithing rappers with guitar strumming folksters. Yet, they try, because how could we not take a look back?

Long live rock ‘n’ roll, so they once said. Freak folk, I’ve yet to see how long you’re gonna last, but it’s clear from these lists you made your mark. Emo, you came and went and your influence will be forever immortalized in MySpace mockery and swoopy haircuts. Bruce Springsteen, you still have not gone away, and that’s just fine with me.

Death Cab for Cutie, you rocked my world, and everyone else’s. “Plans” is the soundtrack of my decade, I’m pretty sure if I had to make a list it would be my number once choice. No album fits any mood better, no album reads my thoughts better, no album elicits as much personal imagery and emotion than that one. Given to me by my mother on my 17th birthday, which feels like so, so long ago, but wasn’t at all. I was wearing a peach-pink prom dress and a tiara, hadn’t even learned to play piano yet, and still longed to learn the opening notes of “What Sarah Said.” A year later that song would mean much more to me than I could know, and four years later “Marching Bands of Manhattan” rang in my ears as I slinked along, broke and alone the subways. “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is an acoustic gift, “Summer Skin” fits every fall afternoon. I love “Plans,” and while “Transatlanticism” hooked me onto Death Cab in the first place, “Plans” has a more mature, thorough sound, and a different take on the thoughtful musing all musicians are prone to expose in the events of their life.

Anyway, lists:
Rolling Stone: 100 Best Albums of the Decade
Paste Magazine: The 50 Best Albums of the Decade
Pitchfork: The Decade in Music (enough material here for weeks of thoughtfulness)
NME: The Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade
Billboard: Artist picks of the decade video
Also, I am pretty much on board with Tom Morello’s picks, lots of good ones in there.

Click around and stroll down memory lane…..we’ve come a long way from 2000, and I can only imagine what sounds the next decade will come up with. Like TV, there’s bound to be the best of the best and the worst of the worst, depending on what channels you tune into. Depending who you talk to, and depending on your tastes. The past year, and the best-of-the-decade wrap-ups allude to the fact that the deep insight and musical mastery of Radiohead, Sufjan and their counterparts sings to the generation and its critics alike. That’s a positive sign, folks — no, auto-tune has not taken over good music, no, hook-y choruses and overproduced nonsense will not kill of the passionate pleas of musicians trying to say their piece. That will always make for the best of the best lists, those who take their craft as seriously as a carpenter takes their staircase. It must be aligned, it must be logical, it must have direction, and it must take you from one place to another. Such music will always, always prevail.


Somehow, when there’s a band you’ve really loved, you love what they make regardless of it’s critical reception. For me, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Copeland, Jimmy Eat World….whatever they do, I will love. And I’ll feel some deeper connection to it, as if they’ve been releasing songs for a span of a few years that correlate to my own experiences.

This song, is gorgeous. Soft, melodic, floating…I love the direction this band has been going in. Album to album, Copeland shows off mature progression and and ability to create delicate soundscapes with poetic meaning and gentle emotion. They’re extremely patient, never pushing a song too far in one direction but always having a beginning, middle and an end.

“Cause it’s no good if you can have it all,
Well I’d give it back but I never stole the first part.
And it always goes when you need it the most,
The kindest love is still bleeding from the last shot.”

-Good Morning Fire Eater, Copeland
You Are My Sunshine

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