Wednesday, June 4, 2008

everyone you meet, they all seem to be asleep

with the exceptions of marching bands of manhattan and i will follow you into the dark, i did not like death cab for cutie's last album. at all. so much so that i was ready to give up on a band i had once thought was really promising - for a long time, i was obssessed with their two albums before plans, the photo album and transatlanticism. i think i feel such a strong connection with the latter album because, when i was living in tacoma and could not find a teaching job (and was really unhappy as a result), i listened to it every single night for about two months with headphones on. so, i was really excited for plans, and when it came out, i was incredibly disappointed. it just seemed... boring . maybe it was the fact that it was their first album with a major label, i don't know - i just felt like it was missing something.

their new album, narrow stairs, begins with bixby canyon bridge , a song that i have to say has really grown on me since the first time i heard it on KEXP (and thought it was such a waste of time that i turned it off). the song begins quietly, and then builds until it feels like it's going to explode. maybe this is what was missing from plans. like marching bands of manhattan, bixby canyon bridge just seems.. big. 'big' as in it makes me want to strech my arms out wide while i close my eyes and sing along. lyrically, the song has lots of references to jack kerouac (which i know you'll appreciate, kristine). all the way from san francisco as i chased the end of your road/cause i've still got miles to go. like the best death cab songs, this one paints a beautiful picture in my mind. i can totally see ben standing in a hot canyon, hoping somehow to discover the secret to life, but then realizing that he can't, and coming to terms with the fact that that's okay.

musically, narrow stairs doesn't really break any new ground for the band. i still want to listen to it a little bit more, but a couple of the songs remind me of older songs (long division in particular sounds really familiar. i think that it reminds me of why'd you want to live here, one of my favorite death cab songs). cath begins with a guitar hook that hasn’t left my head for days. long division has a catchy chorus that I love to sing along with, and no sunlight does a great job of juxtaposing upbeat music with depressing lyrics.

speaking of lyrics, one of my favorite things to do when a band i like releases a new album is listen to it while analyzing the lyrics. ben gibbard is, i think, really good at writing songs from other people's points of view, and the strongest songs on narrow stairs play to this strength. cath, probably my favorite song on the album, is about a woman who, on her wedding day, regrets her choices in life: she stands with a well intentioned man but can't relax with his hand on the small of her back... what became of you when your heart was dying fast. grapevine fires, a song about a family that watches a forest fire becomes a metaphor for coming to terms with the fact that life has no guarantees: the northern sky looked like the end of days/a wakeup call to a rented room sounded like an alarm of impending doom/to warn us that it's only a matter of time before we all burn. even no sunlight, a pretty straightforward mid-20s 'what the hell am i doing here?' kind of song, reminds me of lazy summer afternoons: when i was young lying in the grass/ i felt so safe in a warming bath of sunlight/the vast open sky could do no harm like the embrace of a mother's arms.

This album is not one of those that you will like immediately - at least, it wasn’t for me. And I can’t tell yet whether it will stand the test of time, but, for now, I don’t want to let it leave my CD player.

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