Tuesday, May 13, 2008

REVIEW: Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs


It's 4 AM on Tuesday morning. Do you know where your new Death Cab For Cutie album is?? I got my dirty little paws on a copy early (it's been floating around the interwebs since 5/2) and just finished listening to it. This is the Bellingham, WA group's 7th studio album and 2nd album with Atlantic Records (the first being Plans in 2005).

Let me get this out of the way first: take what you expect from this album and
throw it out the window. OK now that's done, let's move on.

Narrow Stairs marks a dark turn in Death Cab's sound. Sure they still write about rejection, lost love, and regret, but in an especially melancholy way. The album finds the group using massive production, long build-ups, and careening echoes left hanging like so much dust in the air. Where Plans has a more pop sound, Narrow Stairs takes that sound and drags it through some dark twisting alleyways for a bit. What you end up with is a collection of songs that leave the lost lover narrative behind and take on a more menacing (and quite creepy) sound.

The intro to the first track, "Bixby Canyon Bridge," fools you into thinking this might be like
Plans but no! The heavy guitar riff that kicks in tells you that you've left Kansas behind and entered a new dark world that Ben Gibbard will lead you through with his clear voice. The song ends with Gibbard singing the last verse over guitar feedback. I think Karouac would have approved of this song and Gibbard has said as much (see here and here).

The single "I Will Possess Your Heart" once again comes at you with a bass/piano riff intro then comes the stalking vocals. No, really. After hearing this track, I went to double check all my window shades were drawn and doors locked so Mr. Gibbard over there wouldn't break in or anything. Check it: "You reject my advances and desperate pleas / I won't let you let me down so easily" Wow. Luckily I happen to be on the male side of things. Ladies, good luck...and keep the narrator 100 yards away from you at all times.

Personally, I'm a fan of "Your New Twin Sized Bed." With some cheesy (but still decent) metaphors and a more upbeat sound, it is romantic and longing. Also check out "Grapevine Fires" where Gibbard's writing really shines through. As a comment on the southern California fires and the experience of watching them, I'd say this is one of the best tracks on the album.

So what have we learned today kids? By the end of this record, Gibbard has led us through a haunting world where people live with a lack of love and a deep understanding of loneliness. Though it may have some perky moments ("No Sunlight" and "Long Division"),
Narrow Stairs is definitely an album bathed in the lack of light. I find it to be Death Cab's best album since Transatlanticism (though Plans wasn't bad).

4.5/5

Tracklist:

1] Bixby Canyon Bridge
2] I Will Possess Your Heart
3] No Sunlight
4] Cath...
5] Talking Bird
6] You Can Do Better Than Me
7] Grapevine Fires
8] Your New Twin Sized Bed
9] Long Division
10] Pity And Fear
11] The Ice Is Getting Thinner

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3 comments:

Tim Sounds Like Swim said...

Good review! I really like how the album veered from the more poppy, straightforward Plans, which was sort of a letdown for me. It also reminds me of their past albums at times while still sounding unique and fresh, which I think is great. Familiarity + new ground covered = awesome.

Ambient Slut said...

nice review..i find myself liking this album a bit more than plans also i don't remember hearing much about it after it came out..he also seems to sing differently which is good

im pretty sure you can get a work hour for this since im putting the album out this week and i appreciate reviews

Emelie said...

I like this album too. I definitely set myself up for disappointment because I love their other stuff so much but this one has followed through and I'm happy about that.