Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie

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You Can Do Better Than Me by Death Cab for Cutie

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Bixby Canyon Bridge by Death Cab for Cutie

I’m happy to admit that I’m that guy who says he only likes a band’s “older stuff”, but I think there’s a validity to that. If a band has a life of 10 years or so, obviously their sound can change. And if anything, I get sad when my favorite bands release records that I don’t like, I don’t care about how cool they are I just want an awesome record. Upon hearing the first single from Death Cab for Cutie’s new album, Narrow Stairs, I was totally mortified. I Will Possess Your Heart is and 8 and half minute guitar jam that ends with some horrible vocal arrangements. Don’t get me wrong, I love guitar jams, Blue Line Swinger by Yo La Tengo is one of my all time favorite songs and that sucker comes in at over 9 minutes, but this new single was quite disheartening.

Nonetheless, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to listen to the new album. And well, it’s pretty dang good. The album starts out extremely strongly with Bixby Canyon Bridge, starting out crisp like DCFC songs usually do, and then the guitars kick in and things get serious. Gone is the pussyfooting around of the last album, and back to the more raw and lo-fi sound that they used to have. Skipping past I Will Possess Your Heart leads to No Sunlight, a poppy tune with slightly cheeseball lyrics, but the piano in the background makes me love it.

Then there’s Cath…, a song that feels much more like old DCFC. What really stands out on this track is the drums, much more creative and up front, something they used to do a lot more in their older stuff (think of A Movie Script Ending). Talking Bird is more of a mellow somber song, that then leads into the one of the best damn songs on this album, You Can Do Better Than Me. This song is possibly one of the best songs they’ve ever written, with Beach Boys-esque drums, piano melody and an organ providing a good backing. The song lyrically is not happy, nor is the title, but the music itself will make you instantly happy, I guarantee it.

Grapevine Fires
is another gem on the album with some great backing vocals and a nice drum beat to it. The song talks about the fires here in Los Angeles along the Grapevine, a stretch of freeway that connects the Los Angeles area to the northern part of California (for those who aren’t from around here). Your New Twin Sized Bed is a good song, but I think it’s weird that he had Brothers on a Hotel Bed and now this… c’mon Ben, there’s lots of things to write about. Long Division is another really great song on the album, sounding like it could have been off of The Photo Album almost. Pity and Fear is not one of my favorites, it’s slightly electronic with a sort of Conga beat to it, I’m just not feeling it at all. But the album ends with The Ice Is Getting Thinner, a somber little ballad that ends how I think a DCFC album should end. It kind of reminds me of Coney Island.

Overall this album gets 7 or 8 out of 10, if I was to give it any sort of rating. It’s not perfect, nor is it the best album of the year, but it’s a really great step in a good direction, and something definitely worth taking a listen to. Now DCFC needs to call Modest Mouse and tell them to get their shit together and I’ll be REALLY happy.

Narrow Stairs comes out on May 13th through Atlantic Records.

Bobby

May 9, 2008