Death Cab for Cutie is like a woman that is meant only to be loved. You look down at her as you are lying in bed and want nothing but to kiss her forehead and wrap your arms around her. Even in her most heated moments she is still honest and tender. Of course, it’s not like she can’t do anything wrong. There are moments when she breaks your heart and you feel like you’ll never forgive her. But then there you are looking down at her again from that soft perch of the mattress and pillow.
With The Photo Album Death Cab won my heart. With Transatlanticism, Death Cab broke it. And with their new album Plans they’ve mended it and won me back.
This is an amazing little pop record of amazing little pop songs. I’ve always liked simple Death Cab over full-sounding complex Death Cab (which is why I probably don’t like >Transatlanticism), and there are some gorgeous morsels on this album. This record isn’t a musical revolution, but more of a musical lullaby, a sweet collection of sad and hopeful stories.
To me there are really three things that make a perfect pop song: melody, lyrics and Brian Wilson. Now Ben Gibbard is no Brian Wilson, but he’s got melody and lyrics. In fact he is writing some of the most gorgeous lyrics around today (only The Weakerthans rival him in their tender, heart-wrenching honesty). With lines like, “Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule/ I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black/ I held my tongue as she told me ‘Son, fear is the heart of love’/ So I never went back”, Gibbard emotes sweet emo melody and lyrics without all of the overblown tragedy that plagues today’s emo scene. In fact, save for the fact that Gibbard has a soft focus sort of upper register voice, these songs, and most of Death Cab’s for that matter, are less whiney emo rants as they are beautiful indie-pop songs.
“I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is an excellent example. It’s Gibbard and an acoustic guitar and he bares his heart in a tender and mature manner. The song is one of hope and not typical emo despair. I have put this song on repeat so many cigarette laden, drunken nights that it’s sick, but the song, in it’s sweet simplicity, has always made me sit back and just smile. Like I said before, this isn’t the music of virtuosity, it’s the music of beautiful emotion. And this song is one of the best written pop songs of the year — if not of the past five years.
The seventh song, “Someday You Will Be Loved”, is a sort of Decemberists sounding song with the typical Gibbard twinge. It is sweet and steady and a sort of rolling arpeggiated song. Gibbard’s lyrics once again steal the show. Despite the title sounding sappy beyond belief, the song is actually an epic about a boy leaving a girl broken-hearted. He ends by telling her that someday someone will love her and that she will forget him. It’s almost the anti-emo song. Boy leaves girl, not the other way around.
“What Sarah Said” is definitely the most haunting song on the album. “And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself/ That I’ve already taken too much today/ As each descending peak on the LCD/ Took you a little farther away from me.” The song is probably the least hopeful of all. The story is of a boy sitting in the waiting room of a hospital waiting for a doctor to bring him bad news. The song finishes with Sarah’s words. “But I’m thinking of what Sarah said/That love is watching someone die.” Chew on that for a bit while riding the train from Princeton to New York. I had to listen to it two or three times in a row just to digest how the phrase “love is watching someone die” is really true.
The rest of the album follows suit: solid Gibbard lyrics and song writing. It’s a strong and generally hopeful album, not as sorrowful as some of his other songs.
And while I really believe that The Photo Album was Death Cab’s most emotionally tearing album, this one was easily their most mature and well written.