Death Cab for Cutie: The Stability EP

Doug Wallen

Death Cab for Cutie

The Stability EP

Label: Barsuk
US Release Date: 2002-02-19

In 2000, when Death Cab for Cutie released We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, the follow-up to 1998's promising debut Something About Airplanes, the Washington State quartet was already riding high on the waves of underground buzz. And since Voting Yes proved much more adventurous in songwriting and recording than the relatively no-frills Airplanes, Death Cab for Cutie seemed poised to break into the big time.

And they did. All it took was a mere five-song release, The Death Cab for Cutie Forbidden Love EP, to put the boys over the top. The EP found a whole new legion of fans and, ironically, landed on more critics' year-end lists than Voting Yes. That's not bad for what was basically a collection of three standby tracks ("Photobooth", "Technicolor Girls" and "Song for Kelly Huckaby"), an alternate take ("Company Calls Epilogue") and an acoustic version ("405").

Since then, Death Cab for Cutie has remained an impressive critical and commercial success, acting as a flagship band to propel its fledgling label, Barsuk Records, into the upper echelon of indie rock. The year 2001 saw the release of a third full-length effort, The Photo Album, which shot to the top slot of college radio charts (CMJ) and stayed there for weeks.

The shivering fragility of leader Ben Gibbard's tender voice and poetic lyrics has always been the band's creative center of gravity, while guitarist Chris Walla's insular production tricks usually tempt things back from the sleepy side. Bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Mike Schorr, meanwhile, contribute a smoothly effective rhythm section that offsets any prior hints of indulgence.

With the release of The Stability EP, Death Cab for Cutie seems to be going for an effect similar to that of The Forbidden Love EP, striking while the iron is even hotter than last time around. But Stability probably won't achieve quite as profound results, since it's just three songs, one of which is a cover and another of which clocks in at a meandering twelve minutes in length.

The opening "20th Century Towers" starts gently with strummed guitars and brushed drums, and continues that way throughout, never reaching a truly satisfying point of interest. When Gibbard sings, "And yet it still remains / This incessant refrain", or when all four players join in choir-like to announce, "All Around", such haunting moments should really have led to something bigger and more dramatic. But instead, they just key the song's half-awake trailing off into the ether.

It's especially a shame because Gibbard dispenses some of his better nuggets of lyrical understatement to date, which are thankfully reprinted on the record sleeve so you don't have to wait for each whispered verse to usher from his lips. The song's grandiose themes are somewhat burdensome, but those who are in their twenties will surely dwell on the parts about correcting "collegiate mistakes" and clearing "the slate of former years".

"All is Full of Love", the EP's centerpiece, is an emergent gem here, flushed with life in comparison to the two tracks bookending it. It's also, surprisingly, a Bjork cover, which may be why it sounds so anxious and inspired. Gibbard is well at ease with the tune, Michael Schorr's drumming is quite fantastic, and Chris Walla's guitar atmospherics settle over the affair nicely. The song should be a treat for fans of either Death Cab for Cutie or Björk, and especially for fans of both. Iceland's musical princess herself would no doubt be honored.

"Stability", the closing title track, isn't quite as urgent, but it's still a step up from "Towers", at least for a while. Gibbard first sings, "Time for the final bout / Rows of deserted houses / All our stable mates are highway bound" in just the right affecting tone. Soon enough, respected Californian recording whiz John Vanderslice steps in with backup vocals, and the song keeps getting better. But then when you finally start to notice the extended passage of time, you're already eight minutes in with four minutes still to go. Hooked into an eventual tangent of sleepy wordless repetition, "Stability" keeps creeping along, far past the point of intrigue. By the end, it's just a damn bore.

Every Death Cab for Cutie release has had its share of dull patches, but sadly, two-thirds of The Stability EP feel like a concentrated dose of such disappointing slumps. We've come to expect a lot from Death Cab for Cutie, so Stability comes as a letdown, necessary only for hardcore completists. In fact, it turns out that these three songs were originally included with select copies of The Photo Album as bonus material. No wonder, then, that this feels so tacked on to the band's otherwise spectacular career.





'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.