Wednesday, August 31, 2005

best laid plans are sometimes the worst

Death Cab For Cutie

So these days whenever a formerly great indie band gets signed, it seems as though we wait for them to have some sort of catastrophic fuck up like Jawbreaker. You can call it "hating" or whatever, but we really want these old heroes to fail because they abandoned their credibility for mass appeal.

But it's not always so cut and dry. Modest Mousketeer Isaac Brock has constantly talked about the difficulty of taking care of your family if you're simply living an indie band lifestyle. Other bands such as Florida's Against Me have made it work in their favor. In the case of Bellingham-transplanted Seattlites, Death Cab For Cutie, it's not really about indie vs. major as much as it is about old fans vs. new fans.

It's a war that's been going on since their third opus, "The Photo Album," which garnered them so much attention that anything singer Ben Gibbard touched was consumed, as was the case with his electro-blessed side ditty with Dntel, Postal Service, and the critically-yawned, yet commerically successful, fourth Death Cab album "Transatlanticism."

Which leads us to their major label debut "Plans." Like its title suggests (it's not nearly as word-y as their first three albums), "Plans" is simple. Gibbards lyrics are tight as ever, if not a bit simplified; newcomer Jason McGerr's drumming is far more confident than on the previous record; Nick Harmer's basslines and Chris Walla's production style remain unchanged -- they're both stylistic and shine as the highlights of the album.

The central problem with "Plans" is that it is -- by far -- the blandest Death Cab record commited to tape. Many of the songs are mid-tempo or ballads; they lack the punch of songs like "Photobooth" or "Company Calls." Ironically, the best song on the album is the lone acoustic track, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," a melancholy love song playing on a theme of death.

Like "Transatlanticism" Gibbard also seems to be drawing away from his storytelling lyrics, embracing immidiate, flesh-and-blood emotions. In short, Death Cab has made their version of "X&Y."

It's not a terrible album, mind you, it's just not particularly great. The production here is the best part of the album. If you were to put some headphones on while listening to the album, Chris Walla's talent behind the boards has exponentially grown (probably from working with a unique stable of local Seattle bands). At the same time, it's kind of like Timbaland producing a William Hung album -- Timbo's beats are only going to go so far before you have to remind yourself that you're listening to the worst singer in the world.

There seems to be this trend in Death Cab since the "Stability EP" (a single of outtakes from the "Photo Album" sessions) where they're taking their music to a mellower place. Built To Spill did it, Saves The Day did it, and Death Cab is surely going that route. Hopefully, they'll pick up the pace before we all fall asleep.

Friday, August 12, 2005

to hell with the killers, i'd rather have nightmare...

have you heard nightmare of you yet? last year, i pumped those cats in an interview with artsynoise (, so if you don't know, now you know.