Death Cab for Cutie has a new album out. It’s called Thank You for Today, and — shocker — it’s a metal record. Just kidding.
In fact, Thank You is exactly what we expect, and many of us have come to love, about Death Cab for Cutie: melodic and well-crafted nice-guy guitar pop and sad-boy indie rock.
And maybe stylistic departure is not what we want from bandleader Ben Gibbard and the boys from Bellingham, who came up on Washington indie label Barsuk (their best era) before scoring some crossover hits on Atlantic.
Death Cab’s always been a little lightweight. Melancholy ballads like “I Will Follow You into the Dark” or the “Losing My Religion”-esque “When Soul Meets Body” off 2005’s Plans are worthy standard bearers for the college rock tradition of R.E.M. and others, but Gibbard’s never had Stipe’s Whitmanesque genius.
Nevertheless, with status-update-ready lyrics like “If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks/ Then I’ll follow you into the dark” (from “Follow”), there’s plenty in the Death Cab catalog that will bring back endearingly stinging memories of young love and unrequited desire.
Sing the words to a loved one, or slip it on a note to the barista you see every morning but don’t even know by name. Did he or she catch your eye for a split-second longer than normal? These moments are Death Cab’s forte, and within this context their songs are masterpieces.
But Gibbard’s songwriting definitely lost a little something with the amicable departure of collaborator Chris Walla some years ago. With Thank You, some of that returns. Hear it in the watery guitar intro of “Summer Years.” “Sometimes I’m overcome by every choice I couldn’t outrun” Gibbard sings, and his gentle tenor conveys nothing but sadness. You’re right there with him.
“I’ll always need you by my side when we drive,” Gibbard sings on “When We Drive” — d’aww, that’s too cute, Ben. But to his credit, Gibbard always knows just when to pull back such sentiments to just this side of sickly sweet.
Elsewhere enjoy the pulsing electronic beats of later-era Death Cab. Like on “Gold Rush,” where Gibbard laments like a middle-aged hipster kvetching to his grey-haired record store buddy the gentrification endemic in Portland and Seattle. And, according to some, coming soon to a Eugene neighborhood near you.
In fact, Gibbard draws a lot of songwriting juice from that very feeling. Youth is fleeting, nothing stays the same, nostalgia hurts, love never lasts and, anyway, it never burns quite as pure as that first time. It’s easy to get lost in the comforting familiarity of Death Cab for Cutie. But perhaps this backward-looking nature is what’s underneath the feeling that even still, after all these years, Death Cab has yet to put out their bona-fide masterpiece.
From “Gold Rush,” Gibbard sings: “Please don’t change/ Stay the same.” Here’s the thing though, Ben — change can be good. Sometimes change is good.
Death Cab for Cutie returns to Eugene with Charly Bliss 8 pm Monday, Sept. 24, at the Hult Center; $40-$64, all-ages.