Death Cab for Cutie
There‘s really no way around it – Narrow Stairs is a depressing record.
In essence, Death Cab for Cutie‘s seventh studio album is a 45-minute requiem for dead relationships and paths in life regrettably taken.
But who said depressing can‘t also be great? The four-piece from Seattle prove with their sophomore major label effort that great pain really does give way to great art.
“Bixby Canyon Bridge,“ begins the walk down Narrow Stairs with nothing other than a descent. Accompanied by a haze of trills from guitarist Chris Walla, Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard recalls his Kerouac-inspired pilgrimage to Big Sur, “I descended a dusty gravel ridge / Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge / Until I eventually arrived / At the place where your soul had died.“
Among the curveballs thrown on the May 13 release is “You Can Do Better Than Me,“ a quick, two-minute exhalation of jangly tambourines and timpani rolls that accompany the most honest words of a defeated soul.
The lead single from the album, “I Will Possess Your Heart,“ is the most polarizing song the band has ever written – it either alienates listeners or pulls them in deeper to the sound of Narrow Stairs. A lyrically disturbing song about a stalker‘s unrequited love, the epic eight-minute track is also one of the clearest examples of the organic “jamming live to tape” method used in recording the album.
The result is a piece of work that is – to take a line out of “Possess Your Heart” – like a “book, elegantly bound,” with each chapter seamlessly segueing to the next from closing chord to opening melody.
Narrow Stairs possesses impeccable cohesion despite some songs have been recorded with all instruments at once. This approach may be attributed to Walla, who has come into his own as a producer after also working his magic on albums by Tegan and Sara, The Decemberists, Nada Surf and Hot Hot Heat among others.
With their new album, Death Cab takes an adventurous leap from their major label debut, Plans. Lyrically, Gibbard ventures into more corners of despair than he ever has. Musically, the band ambitiously wades into previously uncharted waters with great risk of abandoning many long-time fans in the process.
And yet, this is still Death Cab For Cutie.
In a day and age where many indie bands going to a major label fall into the corporate black hole, Death Cab masterfully continues to do what few other bands can. They make great records while carrying as much of a rock ego as would a venerable college professor, maintaining a level of continuity without becoming anachronistic, and evolving without losing any genes.
For fans of: The Postal Service, The Decemberists
Listen to these: “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” “Your New Twin Sized Bed“
Lyrics to “Bixby Canyon Bridge“
I descended a dusty gravel ridgeBeneath the Bixby Canyon BridgeUntil I eventually arrivedAt the place where your soul had diedBarefoot in the shallow creekI grabbed some stones from underneathAnd waited for you to speak to meAnd the silence, it became so very clearThat you had long ago disappearedI cursed myself for being surprisedThat this didn‘t play like it did in my mindAll the way from San FranciscoAs I chased the end of your road’cause I‘ve still got miles to goI want to know my fate if I keep up this wayIt‘s hard to want to stay awayAnd everyone you meet they all seem to be asleepYou wonder if you‘re missing your dreamYou can‘t see your dreamYou just can‘t see your dreamThen it started getting darkAnd I trudged back to where the car was parkedNo closer to any kind of truthAs I must assume was the case with you