Death Cab for Cutie formed in Bellingham, Washington in 1997. Despite the original solo nature of the band, started by Washington native Ben Gibbard, the project was eventually expanded into group. Gibbard released a demo solo album titled You Can Play These Songs with Chords, which was widely received with positivity and eventually led to a record deal with Barsuk Records. He then invited more members to join the band, releasing three albums in four years. Until very recently the band was made up of Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer on bass, Jason McGerr on drums and Chris Walla on guitar. Walla has since parted ways with the band.
Something About Airplanes, their debut album, was well received but unrefined. Even Gibbard has admitted that he isn’t sure what he was singing about at the time. It set up the general ‘aura’ that DCFC would eventually come to embody with its atmospheric composition and dynamic melodies. Their next two albums, We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes and The Photo Album, marked their place in the world of indie-pop with a more defined sound and a sobering commentary against the romanticization of the unromantic.
But it was their fourth album, Transatlanticism that marked the beginning of DCFC’s rise to stardom. The title track was once described to me as a song you would only share in secret with someone you love. To be honest the entire album is like that. It opens strong and before you know it, slows the pace down with a more mellow pop sound and heavy atmosphere. Each songs blends into the next perfectly, in a way that almost hurts you. The album embodies the weird tense feeling of butterflies you get in your stomach when you see the person you care about the most. It solidified Death Cab’s place in the indie/alternative music scene and propelled them into a place where they finally began to be recognized by the mainstream music scene.
Death Cab for Cutie signed to Atlantic Records to release Plans, which is possibly their most polished album yet. I might be a little biased because this is my favorite album. It got me through an abusive relationship; the subsequent break up as well as another relationship and break up. It’s not as rough and tumble as Transatlanticism but that doesn’t take away from the overall effect. Gibbard’s poetic lyrics make the album, as he chants “Your love is gonna drown.” Plans is the perfect album for the hopeless romantic with its continuous ballads punctured every once in a while with an upbeat track to lighten the mood. The album signified a definite transitional period in the band as they continued to develop their sound.
Narrow Stairs was released in 2008 to much surprise. The general consensus among fans is that it is probably the oddest Death Cab album to date. The subject matter is a lot darker, and they lose their polished sound, instead reverting back to the rawness introduced in Transatlanticism. It’s a desperate album, coupling ‘sunny’ orchestration with solemn lyrics. The lyric design is more like a stream of unconscious thoughts. Gibbard’s glassy, haunting vocals seem to weigh him down, almost like a confession. The closing track The Ice Is Getting Thinner exemplifies that feeling as he gently croons, “We’re not the same dear and it seems to me/ There’s no where we can go with nothing underneath.”
Gibbard is fairly infamous for name-dropping and the band’s seventh studio album Codes and Keys is a prime example. It was written two years into Gibbard’s marriage to Zooey Deschanel and references her several times (“She may be young but she only likes old things/And modern music, it ain’t to her tastes”, you aren’t being subtle Ben). While they retain their general sound, Codes and Keys is probably the least ‘pop’ album released by Death Cab since they broke into the mainstream music scene. It is incredibly texture heavy and sounds experimental in the way that it mirrors the band’s ‘normal sound’, almost as if they are covering their own tracks.
Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio album, is scheduled to be released on March 31, 2015.