Ben Gibbard

I’m about to speak blasphemy. So close your eyes and don’t read if you live in Seattle and are a fan of indie music. This got a vote, so I’ll post about it. I’ll return to NCG next time. My outline is to discuss why Death Cab used to be a good band, what went wrong, and why their latest album is pretty horrible.

In the days of old Death Cab did some very good things. First, musically it was interesting. They are a “pop” band, and I think that is a fair label. Now I’m talking “pop” as a style and not as something that is “popular.” This means that it has pretty standard song format, something along the lines of ABABCA. The chords flowed it in a traditional sense. Any band that does only those two things I would consider bad, though.

They took this pop formula and altered it. They weren’t as repetitive as standard pop bands. They altered chords, or didn’t resolve their 9ths or suspensions. There was interesting texture. The instrumentation was nonstandard at times. There was always something that made it worth going back to. Also, the melody was rarely your typical boring melody that you catch onto after one listen. It was just solid, creative, original music making.

Lyrically, I found Death Cab to be quite successful as well. They didn’t moan about the standard boring trivial pop ideas. They had lyrics that required interpretation. Sometimes being quite poetic. Some examples are definitely needed:

Burn it down till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new when your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue

You may tire of me as our December sun is setting because I’m not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes but these wrinkles masterfully disguise
The youthful boy below who turned your way and saw
Something he was not looking for: both a beginning and an end

this is the moment that you know
that you told you loved her but you don’t.
you touch her skin and then you think
that she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.

They are harsh and poetic, beautiful and about real issues.

On to the new album. First off, it is far far too repetitive. I could barely listen to the album five times. I had the whole thing learned on the second listen. On the first listen some of the structure and melody and lyrics were so cliche and unoriginal that I could actually sing along without having listened to it before. I should be a little more specific.

Bixby Canyon Bridge: To be fair, this is one of the better songs. The lyrics aren’t too straightforward and the song structure is nontraditional. Still, they have this problem with repetition that I’ll get to on the next song.

I Will Possess Your Heart: Possibly the most repetitive song in history? Such a great idea, too. Too bad. Now I’m not against repetition if done properly. I think this was an attempt to recreate Transatlanticism, the problem is that along with the length and repetition of Transatlanticism there was a major overall direction. The repetition didn’t matter because it also kept changing and stayed interesting as it made its journey. This song has no direction. It builds for several minutes, then comes back and never really gets to where it was going. It’s too bad, since that bass line is great and could have been utilized more successfully if used sparingly. I won’t even go there with the lyrics. I’ll just say “I will possess your heart”?!?!

No Sunlight: I made it through this song maybe twice before I decided that if I ever heard the words no and sunlight next to each other I would probably punch whoever said them in the face. Possibly the most uninteresting song lyrically ever produced. Look up the lyrics. You should never see something like:

No sunlight, no sunlight.
No sunlight, no sunlight. (At all)
No sunlight, no sunlight.
No sunlight, no sunlight.
No sunlight, anymore…

That (At all) truly changes things up…gag!

Cath…: Definitely the closest to their old self. Quite interesting chord blocking. Nice shift up in the overall traditional structure. Not too repetitive. Lyrically it is OK: “As the flashbulbs burst she holds a smile. Like someone would hold a crying child.” Thank goodness that word finally creeped in, “like.” We like to call that a simile. Wow. You decided to use a poetic device? It only took a half hour into the album. I’ll listen to this several more times. Yay.

Talking Bird: No comment. See bad comments above.

You Can Do Better Than Me: Lyrically this album has been bad so far, but it is mostly due to the straightforward writing. No room for interpretation and about pretty simple things. Here we hit an all time low. “You can do better than me, but I can’t do better than you.” Why listen to Death Cab when you could just open up the Oxford English Dictionary of cliche and out would pop this song?

Grapevine Fire: 6/8 time. Really changing it up now…

Your New Twin Sized Bed: OED of cliche. “You look so defeated lying there in your new twin size bed.”

Long Division: See negative comments above.

Pity and Fear: The most original song musically on the album. They use almost a Mediterranean scale structure. I think I’ve been overemphasizing lyrics and not the nonoriginality of the songs so far. So far they have been ungodly boring and repetitive. The repetitiveness continues in this, but I think it works just because of the interesting chord structure and nonstandard form of the song. Yay number 2.

The Ice is Getting Thinner: OED of cliche. “There’s little we can say and even less than we can do,
to stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you.”

So overall rating: Somewhere less than 5 out of 10. Come on guys. If we wanted to hear unoriginal songs with unoriginal lyrics we would just turn on the radio.


3 thoughts on “Ben Gibbard

  1. What bothers me most about this record is the pre-release hype, which can be summed up as “It’s the best Death Cab album ever, but will the fans be smart enough to think so?” Am I missing something? Are you missing something? Somehow I don’t think so.

    And may I add: if you’re going to make an eight-minute song with a four-minute instrumental intro, the first words one hears after that intro better not be “How I wish you could see the potential/The potential of you and me.” L.A.M.E.

  2. Hi there,

    interesting analysis.
    Agreed, narrow stairs is definitely not the best DCFC album…I like “I will possess your heart” intro, though, live it is going to be their classic.

    have a look at my review and exclusive b&w pics from DCFC gig at London Koko.
    A different analysis, let me know ehat you think.



  3. Eh, I have to respectfully disagree. Having seen DCFC a few months ago, “I Will Possess Your Heart” was definitely one of the show’s low-lights. And I say this as a person who has been moved to tears at previous Death Cab shows (esp. by Transatlanticism); this tour has definitely lacked the intensity of previous ones.

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