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Record Review: Death Cab for Cutie

This story was published September 8, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

I’ve had it. I’m serious now — I have had enough of the somber, self-serving, sniveling, sad-faced music of today. This means you, Elliot Smith, Bright Eyes, Nick Drake, Dashboard Confessional, Damien Rice and The Decemberists. You too, Belle and Sebastian, Coldplay, The Shins, The Smiths and … Death Cab for Cutie.

Put the guitar picks and piano pedals down, sad fans. It’s not that I dislike the above bands, it’s that I’m sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself. For God’s sake, can’t we be cheerful, just for one teensy track?

Death Cab for Cutie’s new album, Plans, is a masterpiece in the art of misery. There’s talk of hospitals, death, break-ups, one-night stands — it’s all here. But what makes the CD incredible is not its content — it’s the way the songs are presented, in sweetly-penned lyrics and golden tones.

Plans is DCFC’s first album for Atlantic Records; their other four were released by Seattle-based indie label, Barsuk. Transatlanticism, which came out two years ago, brought the band their highest level of recognition yet. It even earned them a mention on The OC, and believe you me, that’s the real way to gauge your self-worth.

Plans and Transatlanticism share many common elements, like DCFC’s classic airy sound and electropop vibe. Drummer Jason McGerr compared the two: “If Transatlanticism was an inhale, Plans is the exhale.”

He’s right. In Plans there is an aspect of breathing out, of disappointment, of the end of something, even if it’s just the final step in the intake of air.

The album’s first three tracks are the most enthralling. “Marching Bands of Manhattan” showcases Ben Gibbard’s sweet, luscious voice while “Soul Meets Body” uses tiny melodic variables that intrigue you, while maintaining a comfortable feel.

My favorite is the third track, “Summer Skin.” The combination of simple piano chords and unrelenting tapping from the snare drum inspire the most feeling in me. It is here that Death Cab has achieved their ultimate goal: I am able to take their lyrics and apply them to my own adventures while staying true to the emotional path the band originally intended.

I am continually impressed by Gibbard’s ability to form powerful lyrics, like “On the night you left I came over/And we peeled the freckles from our shoulders/Our brand new coats were so flushed and pink/And I knew your heart I couldn’t win/Because the season’s change was a conduit/And we’d left our love in our summer skin.”

The acoustic-osity (somewhere, an English professor is cringing) of the album builds in the latter songs. “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” “Someday You Will Be Loved” and “What Sarah Said” sound remarkably like Simon & Garfunkel, with a twist of Lennon.

Plans is worth your money and your time. It’s a lovely collection of sad songs — if that’s really what you’re in the mood for.

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