Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Review: Death Cab for Cutie, "Narrow Stairs"

Death Cab for Cutie
"Narrow Stairs"

I make it no secret that I've watched these four dudes grow into a monolith of a rock band for the last 10 years. I'm pretty fortunate to hail from the city that is their current homebase, to have been able to watch their organic change from small-town openers to arena rock monsters. Even some of their misses, like the last half of "Plans," are still highly respectable records. So what else can Death Cab for Cutie do? Probably make the best record in their career.

There's no hyperbole in that statement: "Narrow Stairs" is the best Death Cab record.

Before I continue on, I'll say that a) my favorite record of theirs will probably always be "We Have the Facts, and We're Voting Yes" and b) nothing will change that. But the overall earnest aesthetic of "Stairs" is hard to shake. Whereas the band's first two albums were really esoteric and pretentious and "The Photo Album" lingered in a sort of a pop-music limbo, "Transatlanticism" marked an era of Death Cab that had Ben Gibbard spilling his guts all over Chris Walla's cache of 2" tape. As the band has aged, their albums have become more personal -- and though some people can call it a regression, I'll side with the band and offer it as quite the opposite.

The thing is, as we get older, we tend to get better at hiding our feelings and we get better at speaking in metaphors and vague phrases. "Transatlanticism" and "Plans" were, to me, Gibbard saying, "Fuck that," and making the most non-punk punk rock records. "Narrow Stairs" is an evolution of this progression. Lyrically, Gibbard seems to have fallen back to writing some vague songs, but for the most part, the record as a whole comes off as earnest. The best part of the record is Walla's impeccable production. Walla has always been a so-so producer, but, as exemplifed on Tegan and Sara's "The Con," his overproducing and addiction to textures really fleshes out these songs and molds them into living organisms.

Like I said, "Narrow Stairs" is the best Death Cab album thus far. It was so great, I don't even need to write about the individual tracks.

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