There’s a certain miniature quality to the name Death Cab For Cutie, like the music might just collapse in a giggle fit before it gets from the speakers to your ears. But names can be deceiving. In fact, Death Cab’s new EP, Forbidden Love, not only reaches your ears but rattles around in your head for a while when it gets there. Which is not to say Death Cab For Cutie are a loud band; they’re the opposite. But in rock music, things that were loud in the studio are often unassuming on your stereo. Matchbox Twenty may vibrate a beer-a-mid in person but Death Cab For Cutie hit harder at home: middle of the road is inaudible; subtlety is ear catching, which is the bedroom equivalent of pumping up the volume. So in a sense, Death Cab For Cutie are a loud band.
Paradoxically, the less Death Cab rock up their songs the bigger they sound. It’s a lesson well learned from Bedhead — an obscure band that clearly did not escape Death Cab’s notice. Why cram 10 bad hooks into a song when you can really nail home one or two good ones? “405”, the fourth song on Forbidden Love, is a textbook example. Listen to the way the vocals play against the guitars. That’s the hook. That’s the song. That’s plenty.
Every track on Forbidden Love can be distilled down to one identifiable theme. On “Photobooth” the hook is rhythmic, on “Technicolor Girls” it’s a simple guitar mantra — all part of the plan. As one of a growing number of indie bands unafraid to combine indie rock sounds with a more prog-influenced sensibility, Death Cab have discovered a way around the staleness that has permeated indie rock of late. They are musically adventurous, but always understated.
Not every song is a winner, of course. “Technicolor Girls” is limp compared to the Bedhead songs it emulates. But even on the weaker cuts the arrangements always accentuate the song’s pop thesis with maximum effect and minimal fanfare. It’s a deliberate and reassuring style that depends on the good taste of the supporting musicians, who always come through. Death Cab write fine songs but what ultimately makes them a good band, and a memorable band, is not brilliant songwriting but intelligent execution.