Monday, May 19, 2008

Narrow Stairs

On Friday I picked up the new release from Death Cab for Cutie, who I will be seeing live in concert for the 2nd time on Friday, May 30th. Narrow Stairs is their 7th full-length studio album. It is also, in my opinion, one of their most diverse-sounding recordings.

(My weekend included a lot of time in the car including a trip to Olathe and a trip out to Powell Gardens to perform a wedding so I had the opportunity to listen closely to this record.)

The opening track, "Bixby Canyon Bridge," has the mild feel of a song that The Shins might have recorded, particularly if you listen to lead singer Ben Gibbard's vocal inflections. "Your New Twin Sized Bed" sounds like Death Cab doing their best Jack Johnson imitation. Finally, the song "Pity and Fear," considering its unusual percussion and rhythm section arrangement could almost be mistaken for an 80's Peter Gabriel song, at least until the end when the song accelerates its tempo and becomes a bit harder.

I happen to believe that Death Cab's later recordings are as good as their earlier sound, but those who are critical of everything that came after The Photo Album will love the 9th track, "Long Division", in which they return to their earlier sound.

My favorite two tracks on the album are "No Sunlight" which has all the bounce and buoyancy of songs like "The Sound of Settling" and "Crooked Teeth", and the interestingly titled track "Cath..." whose bright - even transcendent - guitar riffs disguise the depression of a relationship fated to failure. The song employs a narrative voice, perhaps of a jilted ex-boyfriend, to describe the snap of wedding pictures and the swirling emotions of that moment. The subject matter is quite similar to "Death of an Interior Decorator" off Transatlanticism.

As with any Death Cab album, not every song immediately stands out. A few of the tracks, like "Talking Bird" and "The Ice is Getting Thinner" seem like they are trying too hard to emulate the magic of their cross-over hit "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." Likewise, the songs "I Will Possess Your Heart" and a few of the songs that fall in the middle of Narrow Stairs did not immediately stand out to me. Oftentimes, the songs by this band that don't immediately catch me turn out to be some of my favorites.