1. We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes
The lo-fi stylings of sophomore album 'We Have The Facts' could certainly be blamed on the fact that the band were still working with bad equipment, but it's this sound that combined with Ben Gibbard's lyrical musing on his impending adulthood that created a brilliant record dealing with themes of adolescent friendships, loss of youth and (as per usual) complicated relationship situations.
The strength of Death Cab for me has always been the personal relationship I felt with them, coming from the outstanding, always relatable words of Ben Gibbard. So 'We Have The Facts' was always going to be special to me; when I first heard it, it became the soundtrack to my summer and I couldn't bring myself to listen to anything else, mainly due to the fact that I felt nearly all of the ways Gibbard was describing throughout. His disillisionment with change and moving on from simpler times was the first connection I made but it went much further than that; at times it felt as though he was speaking for me through his own words.
Aside from my own thoughts on the records meaning and my personal interpretation, much has been made of Gibbard's lyrical prowess on the album (fan speculation on the concept behind it dominates forums), having developed significantly since debut Something About Airplanes. Backed by Chris Walla's multi instrumentation approach, We Have The Facts is an assured, confident acheivement by a band at the peak of their career, as lack of expectation or responsibilty led to both critical and commercial success, earning Death Cab a well deserved breakthrough.
An album that truly defines a particular time in my life and therefore one that I'll never forget.
Best Tracks: Company Calls Epilogue/No Joy In Mudville/Scientist Studies
'Transatlanticism' marked a mid way point in Death Cab For Cutie's career as they began to leave the early style of 'Something About Airplanes' and 'We Have The Facts' behind them, in favour of a more pop orientated, accessible sound. 'Transatlanticism' was the intersection of Death Cab's early and late styles and they came together beautifully on this as Ben Gibbard writes a record chronicling the break up of a long term relationship with striking accuracy and a poignant touch that he had developed on 'The Photo Album', and perfected on 'Transatlancism'.
The main difference between 'Transatlanticism' and its predecessor is the records flowing style; while 'Photo Album' felt more like a collection of individual songs strung together for a track list, 'Transatlanticism' tells a story from beginnining to end in what feels like chronological fashion and it works excellently. We're taken into the highs and lows of a significant time in Gibbard's life with a suprising initimacy that few other songwriters I've heard can acheive.
It's pretty obvious from the above that I'm a huge fan of Gibbard's lyrical style, and it's always been the main factor in Death Cab being one of my favourite artists, but even for his standards this is a step up; as I've already said the greatest thing about the band has always been their ability to convey and create emotions in the listener and 'Transatlanticism' is a prime example of Gibbard's ability to cut deep and write truly relatable, affecting songs. The fact that the bands growing pop sensibilities make the backdrop to the words admittedly catchy only works in the albums favour.
A very personal favourite and impossible not to relate to and find comfort in for anyone who's ever had a similiar experience.
Best Tracks: Title And Registration/Transatlanticism/A Lack of Color
3. Something About Airplanes
If you didn't know Death Cab and listened to 'Something About Airplanes', then fast forwarded 6 albums to 'Codes And Keys', you'd think you were hearing a different band. The debut album by the group starkly contrasts with their later work; recent albums seem more than happy to produce a mainstream sound, appealing to the masses, but 'Something About Airplanes' was experimental indie rock at it's finest. The droning, detatched attitude of just about every second on the album made for a unique sound that was fearless in it's unusually apathetic approach. Nowadays Death Cab are just another indie rock band in a world filled with their kind, but back in 1999 'Something About Airplanes' was the beginning of a group who, at the time, sounded absolutely like no other and that's the main reason why it deserves to be recognised as a classic.
Best Tracks: Bend To Squares/Your Bruise/Line of Best Fit
4. The Photo Album
'The Photo Album' saw Gibbard and co. first begin to develop on their earlier sound and introduce a cleaner, guitar driven approach that created one of the band's very best. Earlier I said that 'The Photo Album' felt like a random collection of songs compared to the storytelling nature of 'We Have The Facts' and 'Transatlanticism', but that's not a bad thing whatsoever; the scrapbook nature of the record cosincides perfectly with it's title, blending an assortment of memories and experiences that come together beautifully.
Walla was at his best on tracks like We Laugh Indoors, Why You'd Want To Live Here and I Was A Kaliedoscope, all of which are filled with hooks that beg for repeated listens, while Gibbard paints vivid pictures in the listeners mind over it's ten tracks with the ease of a true poet. This was very much the sound of Death Cab in the middle of their prime.
Best Tracks: Steadier Footing/A Movie Script Ending/Debate Exposes Doubt
In my mind, 'Plans' was the last truly brilliant Death Cab release. An album that marked the end of a band at the height of their powers, and demonstrated for the last time, the genius of Ben Gibbard before it began to wane. Plans is dominated by themes of death and love, a simple concept but one that makes for incredible songwriting as Gibbard ponders the true nature of love and it's existence in the afterlife on affecting ballads like ''What Sarah Said'' and the magical ''Stable Song''. The album's true masterpiece however is 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark', an intimate ode to a lover of remaining faithful in death that never fails to provoke an emotional reaction in the listener. Possibly the band's best song and one of my all time favourites.
Best Tracks: I Will Follow You Into The Dark/What Sarah Said/Stable Song
6. You Can Play These Songs With Chords
Essentially a demo recorded by Gibbard before the formation of the band as we know it today, but 'You Can Play These Songs With Chords' deserves to be recognised among the rest of their releases simply because it contains a number of Death Cab classics. 'Song For Kelly Huckaby', 'Prove My Hypotheses' and 'Army Corp of Architects' stand alongside any of the band's studio recorded work, and are absolute classics within the band's catalogue that merit the inclusion of the early work of Ben Gibbard.
Best Tracks: Prove My Hypotheses/Song For Kelly Huckaby/Army Corp Of Architects
7. Narrow Stairs
I've found myself talking about the band's latest releases more than I'd like, but it all comes back to the fact that when I listen to their lastest two albums it's the sound of a very different band creating very average music. I feel as though I've lost one of my favourite artists to a mediocre substitute attempting to imitate them, but having said so, Narrow Stairs is a far step above the mundane Codes & Keys. Tracks like 'Bixby Canyon Bridge', 'Grapevine Fires' and 'Long Division' are a reminder of Death Cab's power, but even they can't make up for duds like 'Talking Bird', 'You Can Do Better Than Me', and the terribly obvious lyrics of closer 'The Ice Is Getting Thinner', which is incredible to hear from a songwriter as accomplished as Gibbard. An inconsistent record with a number of tracks worthy of listening, but ulitmately a huge disappointment for a loyal Death Cab fan such as myself.
Best Tracks: Bixby Canyon Bridge/Grapevine Fires/Long Division
8. Codes & Keys
As I've said, Narrow Stairs was a step above Codes & Keys for me, which doesn't mean much for my opinion of the band's most recent release. It's difficult to find traces of the group who wrote Something About Airplanes and We Have The Facts in this, and as such, it's an album I didn't take much away from and don't find myself coming back to often. A particular lowlight is 'Stay Young, Go Dancing', a simply cringeworthy song that serves as a damning indictment of a band past their best and happier to succeed in the mainstream media than with their original fanbase.
Best Tracks: Home Is A Fire/Doors Unlocked And Open/Underneath The Sycamore
Next Week: Bloc Party