I can’t speak for you, or anybody besides my own damned self for that matter, but Narrow Stairs, the latest studio effort from Death Cab For Cutie, has earned them at least one new fan. It doesn’t possess nearly as much pensive, sleepy mortality as 2005’s Plans, but maintains a familiar musical personality while adding many more colors to their palette. This was no doubt aided in no small part by producer-guitarist Chris Walla, who’s also laid wax with indie darlings The Decemebrists, as well as Tegan And Sara. Considerably darker and more introspective this time around, Death Cab For Cutie comfortably flex all their muscles on Narrow Stairs with excellent results.
Album opener Bixby Canyon Bridge is as close to typical Death Cab fodder as the record gets, ghostly guitar countering Ben Gibbard’s soft voice retreating down the California coast. A more rockin’ vibe descends when drummer Jason McGerr lays into his toms and the band goes full throttle, but Gibbard remains pensive in his quest to conjure Kerouac. “You wonder if you’re missing your dream,” sings Poet of Purgatory Gibbard, like a man lost at sea. “You just can’t see your dream…” The end jam and outro are perhaps the most psychedelically awesome thing the Cab has ever done.
The foundation of Narrow Stairs was clearly built on the strength of I Will Possess Your Heart, a slow-building, trippy groove that builds steadily for a good four and a half minutes before Gibbard delivers the first line of a tale of love’s confidence in winning the heart of a resistant muse. Atmospheric, complicated and this song is a grand masterpiece, and is already dominating radio.
No Sunlight– Pessimistic lyrics contrasting childhood wonder with the emptiness of being a grownup. A perfect pairing of lyrics and sonic atmosphere.
The guitar riff to Cath… is perhaps the most addictive on the record, while Talking Bird is a swaying, melancholy act of simplicity.
The sunny ’60s pop feel of You Can Do Better Than Me adds a great layer of humor to Gibbard’s lyrics, acknowledging that love aint what it once was, but that he can’t do any better. “There’s times I think of leaving, but it’s something I’ll never do / ‘Cause you can do better than me, but I can’t do better than you.” Sweet surrender redefined.
Grapevine Fires is a lonely, minor-key walk on a cold, dark night, lyrically a spectator’s account of taking a seat and getting ready for armageddon. The Ice Is Getting Thinner, the beautiful, aching account of seeing love’s demise on the horizon. “We’re not the same, dear,” he sings. “The seasons have changed and so have we.”
Your New Twin-Sized Bed is a gorgeous eulogy to love, radio-bound and one of the three best songs on the album (the other two being Pity And Fear and I Will Possess Your Heart).
Long Division? Never liked it in school, and I still don’t. Makes a strange divider between Bed and the examination of an adulterous one-night stand Pity And Fear, an excellent example of Death Cab’s ability to break new ground without breaking a sweat:
I have such an envy for this stranger lying next to me
Who awakes in the night and slips out into the pre-dawn light
With no words, a clean escape, no promises or messes made
And chops it all up to mistake, mistake, mistake
Check out Open Windows, a Current TV production tracking the band’s final days at home in Seattle before they embark on their latest tour, as well as their first shows debuting the new songs in front of fans.
It also features interviews and live performances. Trust me, if you don’t already want this album, you will after watching this. And if you don’t already love Death Cab For Cutie, you may find good reason to after listening.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.