Sunday, June 01, 2008

The optimist died inside of me

In advance of Tuesday's Death Cab for Cutie concert in Millennium Park, I thought I'd say a few words about Narrow Stairs, their wonderful new album. After listening to the epic and gorgeous first single, "I Will Possess You Heart," for a few weeks now, I was looking forward with great anticipation to Narrow Stairs, and it doesn't disappoint.

With the opener, "Bixby Canyon Bridge," I love the slow build of the first minute and a half, followed by the staccato bass/electric guitar pulse. The track lets us know that the album may mine darker territories. "No Sunlight," the poppiest song on the album, is a winner as well. Though the music is upbeat, this is not a cheerer-upper by any means. The song manages to be both a sing-along bouncer and a reflection on the gloom and doom of growing up and the loss of childhood innocence. "Cath . . ." as Erik said is quintessential Death Cab, and everything here comes together well.
And I will agree with Erik again in his assessment of "Talking Bird." I think this is the album's one weak spot, and I just find the song a bit boring. It needs something more.

However, unlike some critics, I adore "You Can Do Better than Me." I love the Beach Boys-like rhythms and organ, I love the vocals, I love the lyrics. There is something about the way Ben sings the line "and I feel like a fool" that really strikes a chord with me--Officer Jim says the exact same thing in Magnolia, and we all know how I feel about Magnolia. This song really touches me, and its under-two-minutes runtime makes me crave it all the more. To me, this track is one of the highlights of the album.

Ben Gibbard has always had a knack for using everyday objects as symbols, and "Your New Twin-Sized Bed" continues in this vein. I really like this song; the lilting guitar and bass are strangely complemented by some echoes and in-studio "waviness." (It's subtle, but it adds a lot.)
And if anyone can make math even more lonely, it's Ben Gibbard. "Long Division" is almost too clever for its own good, but it sounds so good, so I forgive it.
"Pity and Fear," with it's Indian, "Within You, Without You" tabla beats, begins on a very dark note, which I guess makes sense considering it is called "Pity and Fear." Later, more layers of percussion drive the song on, while feedback-tinged electric guitar add a cacophonous element. This is not your grandfather's older sister's Death Cab.


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