Death Cab For Cutie

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Something About Airplanes , 6.5/10
We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes , 6.5/10
The Photo Album , 5/10
Postal Service: Give Up , 6/10
Ben Gibbard: All-Time Quarterback , 6/10
Transatlanticism (2003), 5.5/10
Plans (2005) , 6/10
Narrow Stairs (2008), 5/10
Codes and Keys (2011), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Death Cab For Cutie, a quartet from the Seattle area led by vocalist Ben Gibbard and guitarist Chris Walla, played slow, melancholy, pensive, "textural" rock in the vein of Built To Spill. Something About Airplanes (Barsuk, 1999 - Sonic Boom, 2007) was a collection of painstakingly detailed stories of alienation and defeat. The groping instrumental dynamics of Bend To Squares (including Erika Jacobs' strings) renders a convoluted psychology. The limping rhythm and reverbed guitar of Champagne From A Paper Cup exude insecurity. Your Bruise is almost oneiric in the way it refuses to let the melody soar. The seven-minute lullaby Line Of Best Fit that closes the album indulges in Neil Young-ian guitar meditations and quasi-waltzing rhythms.
By comparison, Pictures In An Exhibition is almost hard-rock thanks to a loud beat and gritty riff. On the other hand, the organ-tinged President Of What? is closer to the bubblegum ditties of the 1960s than to the noisy nightmares of the 1990s. Musically, these two are the standouts. Amputations too boasts a relatively melodic structure, and unusually in a witty tone.
While much feels unfinished and unstable, the band is notable for inventing a completely new style for each song with always inventive drumming (Nathan Good).

We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes (Barsuk, 2000) was perhaps less poignant but the vignettes ware no less persuasive. A couple of streamlined structures opened to a broader audience: the simple melodic progression of Title Track and the upbeat aria of Little Fury Bugs. The emotional nadir was achieved with the suspended atmosphere of The Employment Pages, the anemic singalong of 405 and the even more dejected litany of No Joy In Mudville. The band only left their emotional embrio for the relatively aggressive and electronic For What Reason, the quasi-grunge Company Calls and the feverish closer Scientist Studies.

The EP The Forbidden Love (2000) invested on the melodic/atmospheric side of the equation, yielding the charmingly harmless Photobooth.

Sadly, The Photo Album (Barsuk, 2001), which is truly a journey album, was simply a disappointment. Why You'd Want to Live Here and We Laugh Indoors are deeply felt and mildly entertaining. However, most of the songs sound simply like leftovers from the previous album (albeit occasionally brilliant ones, such as A Movie Script Ending, that sounds like a cubistic remix of Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me) or self-indulgent whines (Steadier Footing).

The band Cutie simulateously released the EP The Stability (Barsuk, 2002), which contains the (far superior) 13-minute slo-core opus Stability.

You Can Play These Songs With Chords (Barsuk, 2002) collects a 1997 cassette, plus rare and unreleased material.

Ben Gibbard's side project, All-Time Quarterback (Barsuk, 2002), which collects 1999 material originally released on an EP and a cassette, is devoted to classy lo-fi, the kind that only a real talent can concoct. Underwater and Plans Get Complex are pleasant and intelligent, while Cleveland, Empire State and Rules Broken manage to be intriguing despite their simplicity.

Postal Service's Give Up (Subpop, 2003) is a collaboration between Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel. Their tuneful eccentric ditties redefine synth-pop (their classic Such Great Heights, We Will Become Silhouettes). The male-female duet in Nothing Better is particularly noteworthy. The arrangements and the dynamics are original enough to sustain any melodic construct.

Despite the sophisticated arrangements, Transatlanticism (Barsuk, 2003) is a distant relative of their best albums. Except for the vigorous existential The New Year and the noisy ranting We Looked Like Giants, the sound is unfocused and the songs are bland. Even the eight-minute Transatlanticism cannot fully take advantage of the hypnotic atmosphere that the instruments create (piano, industrial percussion, evocative synthesizer, psychedelic guitar).

Plans (Atlantic, 2005) improved at least in the melodic department. Soul Meets Body (steady danceable beat, twangy guitar), Marching Bands of Manhattan, Your Heart Is an Empty Room prove what the band can do when it musters its power-pop skills. Ben Gibbard continues to enchant and hypnotize with simple sentimental songs such as the catchy serenade Soul Meets Body (their biggest hit ever) and the frail, acoustic I Will Follow You Into The Dark (a manifesto of sorts). Death Cab For Cutie is instead unusually weak when it needs to support the existential meditation of What Sarah Said (also the longest track), a fact that does not bode well for the future.

Having finally achieved pop stardom, Death Cab For Cutie wasted their talent on Narrow Stairs (2008) with a parade of mostly faceless songs. The eight-minute instrumental and vocal rumination I Will Possess Your Heart (a psychedelic cosmic trip a` la Jefferson Airplane aborted by staccato piano, gospel-ish chanting and jazzy vibraphone) was hailed as revolutionary precisely because so little else was interesting. All in all, this time Gibbard fared better with the more existential songs, such as Grapevine Fires or Pity and Fear, instead of the simpler ones.

Some leftovers were released on the five-song EP The Open Door (Atlantic, 2009).

One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur (2009) was a soundtrack composed with Son Volt's Jay Farra.

Chris Walla debuted solo with the mediocre Field Manual (2008).

Codes and Keys (2011) was their poppiest and most optimistic album yet, thanks to ditties such as You Are a Tourist and Unobstructed Views; a far cry from the clumsy existential angst of the early recordings.

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