Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Death Cab For Cutie / Plans / Rating 6.5

Different Names for the Same Thing Indeed

How vexing must it be to play in Death Cab for Cutie, not be Ben Gibbard, and yet have almost every review of your band mention Postal Service; the band you have nothing to do with? How much more defeating is it to be in a band who has existed for the span of 5 full length records and have new press talk about you as if you never existed pre O.C. crosspollination?

You name it, they dropped it: Billboard, E! on line, The Onion, Rolling Stone….the list runs the length of my arms and by venting on the subject and now... I too have laid down the same hand of cards. Crap.

I am trying to imagine the varying degrees of pressure Death Cab faced when writing “Plans”. I will not pretend I know what the band was thinking when they began working on this record but certainly there could have been several valid black clouds looming over their creative process.

  • The first release on a major label
  • Creating songs to keep their original and oldest fans happy
  • Writing poignant lyrics and melodies that won’t scare away and intimidate the youngest and newest members of their following
  • Make a cd that could match or even better, surpass the success of Postal Service
  • Most importantly make a record they could wake up in the morning and not hate themselves for having produced. (IE: staying true to themselves as artists)

That’s enough pressure to make the most seasoned artist crack and while I can’t call this record a courageous or stunning major label debut, it isn’t the tattered remains of a once captivating band either.

“Plans” is a contemplative seesaw resting between good and barely average.

The album begins on a swelling high note (Marching Bands of Manhattan”, “Soul Meets Body” and “Summer Skin”) but by the 4th track I am wondering if Mr. Gibbard will ever stop singing and spinning his personal fireside tales. Every time the music takes off in an interesting direction, vocals stomp all over it with an overtly wordy verse and chorus. Ben falls upon the same old basic 5 melody patterns and timings he knows how to sing and then it clicked… haven’t I heard them do this all before but better? I’ve read several reviews where they call the vocals the glue that keeps this record together but I find their endless melodramatic mid-tempo presence too much. They grate and by the last track my interest in the cd as a whole has been shredded to bits.

The sly but subtle production/trickery is well crafted and smart, I salute you Chris Walla. Each broad shouldered pop song musically carries the signature lyrical style we have all grown accustomed to and love. But,(and you knew there was going to be a but) sadly the final product is a little of too much the same without being as striking as the old same. It's easy to predict the band’s base following will think this record is really good but for the more conditioned indie rocker, it is not good enough.

PFM ends their review by saying: “For its peaks, the album also has its share of valleys …” and “In another sense, it would be nice if a band reaching for a larger audience had a sound that matched that sense of ambition.” Their 6.5 rating seems to match those sentiments accurately and on the whole, I couldn’t agree more.*

*Had I not self imposed pity while debating the possible writing hurdles Death Cab faced when making “Plans” I believe my rating number would actually match the number of knuckles Ben Gibbard had “bruised by a lady in black.”