Tuesday, August 09, 2005

album review! death cab for cutie: plans

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ahhh, the major-label debut. if your favorite indie band is good enough, they either probably will or already have gone through this rite of passage for worldwide success. modest mouse, the most-recent seattle band to hit it really big in the majors, made what was probably the moodiest major-label debut of all time with the moon and antarctica in 2000. indie purists everywhere were either mildly disappointed or visibly upset when ben gibbard and crew left their home at barsuk records (the seattle-based indie label where they released four albums and four ep's, if you count the we laugh indoors ep as one, instead of a single) to join atlantic records, home of fat joe, and supposedly a whole lot of acts that aren't worth mentioning, because i can't even name another act on that label. sean paul? okay, there's two. anyhow, there was skepticism among death cab fans about how the record would sound with its major label budget. when i first obtained a copy, i listened to it non-stop for thirty-six hours, only stopping for sleep and reruns of america's next top model. the copious amounts of time were spent digesting the record. without giving too much away, there's one word to describe this record: melancholy.

number one: "marching bands of manhattan"--
starting the album off with a churchy organ is always a risky move. sounds like a love song to me. it has the trademark death cab for cutie sound, which has always been regarded as "built to spill for bookish teenagers". sad-sack moment #1: towards the end of the song, ben gibbard repeats the line, "your love is gonna drown"."

number two: "soul meets body"--
the very first time i heard this song, which was on the radio (i live in death cab's hometown of seattle. go figure), i immediately thought one thing: this song sounds like smiths-lite with really compressed drums. the chorus, with the semi-annoying "ba da ba da, ba ba", has a signature death cab two-stringed riffs (if you would call it a "riff"). it's got a new-wave feel to it. picture that: death cab opting for flavor-of-the-week trends. not to spoil the ending, but it's the most lackluster track on the album.

number three: "summer skin"--
starts out with a chord progression on piano, then the bassline and the drumbeat (probably the best on the album on both accounts) kicks in. ben gibbard paints a pictures of a summerside landscape. goes into introspective ben gibbard-ish lyrics. for the chorus, the bassline goes out for a while and it's just piano and drums. then, everything trickles back in. the second verse starts out strong, "on the night you left, i came over; and we peeled the freckles from our shoulders." i'm not sure why this line holds any meaning at all to me, but it grabbed me. the second chorus is the guitar playing the same chords the piano did in the first chorus, and the song ends.

number four: "different names for the same thing"--
sounds like the first part of this song was created in a church, or a large hall or something. the intro to this song (if you can call it an intro, it's nearly two minutes long) is my favorite moment on the album so far. it's just ben gibbard in an elton john moment with the piano, which i'm starting to believe is going to be the mvp of this album. after the "intro", for lack of a better term, blips and beats quietly jump into the mix. followed by a drumbeat and a bassline. after a nice little crescendo, they actually make a decent little rock-out (if you can call it that, this IS death cab for cutie, after all) of it.

number five: "i will follow you into the dark"--
i'm a sucker for acoustic ballads. ben and guitar. sad sack moment number #2: "love of mine, someday, you will die." i'm sure it's true, and this is a beautiful love song. it just catches you off-guard. in the second verse, ben talks about a time at catholic school where he gets smacked in the hands with a ruler, as his teacher schools him on love, dr. phil style. it's a beautiful song. a little glimmer of light during the rain storm that is this album. don't get me wrong; i love rain.

number six: "your heart is an empty room"--
sad sack moment #3: the title of this song. there's not much to say about this song. it's a good track, and the accordian at the beginning of verse two is a nice little touch.

number seven: "someday, you'll be loved"--
when you heard the first chord of this song, you already know it's going to be a dark song. ben talks about getting dumped in the form of a "dear john" letter. yes, ben. time heals all wounds. after the second time the chorus rolls around, they rock out again. a nice little exclamation point.

number eight: "crooked teeth"--
the only song on the album that prominently features electric guitar. in the poppiest number on the album, ben doesn't let the listener down when he points out the "kids strung out on homemade speed." while we're on the subject of lyrics: "you're so cute when you're slurring your speech" could very well be the best pickup line of 2005. the rockout in the bridge of this song sounds like bends-era radiohead. most cliche lyric of the album: "no, you can't find nothing at all; when there was nothing there all along."

number nine: "what sarah said"--
the apreggio on piano (!) indicates this one is probably going to be another weeper. sound very reminiscent of, almost identical to, straylight run (piano-based emo band). ben paints the image of a hospital room that "wreaked of piss and 409." now, i know ben gibbard is a habitual swearer (i've read interviews and i've heard solo acoustic performances), but it throws you off guard, because he only throws it in certain songs. the only other instance of a strong word in his songs is when he called his dead father a bastard in "styrofoam plates". sad sack moment #4: "so who's going to watch you die," the refrain at the end of the song, where there is a crescendo reminiscent of "transatlanticsm". just when you thought that was depressing enough...

number ten: "brothers on a hotel bed"--
this track starts out with, yet another sorrowful piano intro. buried in the background, there is the same key on the piano being tapped throughout the song. describing a relationship gone awry, this is one of the more regretful tunes on the album. sad sack moment #5: where ben is describing how the narrator and his lover sleeps on seperate sides, like, you guessed it, "brothers in a hotel bed". when i had to share the bed with my cousin in north carolina, one of us slept on top of the covers, and one slept underneath.

number eleven: "stable song"--
"time for the final bow." very poignant way to start off the last track on the album. very downtempo song. reminds me of "sleep spent" off of something about airplanes, or "send packing" off of the all-time quarterback project. very good song. the only problem i have with it, is that they could have taken this track and made a long crescendo out of it, and brought some sort of climax to this song. the track ends abruptly at 3:43. on earlier albums, this track could have been like at least seven minutes.

summary: now, i'm a sucker for superlatives, so let me speak now: this is the most depressing album i've heard since love is hell by ryan adams. it is also, without a doubt, the most melancholy major-label debut i've ever heard. it's also one of the better albums i've heard this year. plans is the perfect soundtrack for an attempted suicide; singing along as your hang yourself. that's how i'd want to die.


Blogger Ogbuefi Stephi said...

great review. i'm not sure what i think about it yet (the album, that is), but i think your post helped me put a finger on it.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey - "stable song" is a re-worked and shortened version of "stability" from the stability ep...on the ep its like 12 minutes long - so track it down for the long version you were hoping for

4:59 PM  

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