Death Cab for Cutie are synonymous with metaphorical songwriting and thought-provoking guitar work. Not thought-provoking as in so experimental you’ll think about music differently, more like sitting back and providing a canvas for the listener’s imagination to take over.
And while “Transatlanticism” and “Plans” are certified classics of the 2000s, it can be argued that their album that takes these strengths to the greatest extent is actually “We Have the Facts and are Voting Yes”, an album that came out a couple years before the band really blew up. It’s tied together conceptually with themes of breakup and modern urban life, specifically through a loosely-defined story of a hip Seattle couple and how their relationship slowly falls apart.
A defined concept album suits lead singer Ben Gibbard’s unique songwriting style perfectly. Verses are less of a defined set of lines and more of a section of a longer story arc. “Little Fury Bugs” is a winding tale of a road trip filled with uneasy friend group dynamics, while “For No Reason” makes powerful moments out of a barely raised voice. “Tracing the plot finds, skin touching skin” is an understated chorus with a lot of heart in the small vocal inflections. Meanwhile “No Joy in Mudville” reimagines a classic poem about baseball as a swan song of hipster life.
Songs take on instrumental arcs as well as just narrative ones. “Title Track” starts with a narrow soundscape to fit the themes of weariness and cigarette filters before opening up with rich hi-hats and a strong bassline.
The narrative climax of the album, though, is the two-part epic “Company Calls” and “Company Calls Epilogue”. It goes from a rant about a relationship that is “so tired” with yells about crashing a “party line” to spiraling further into crashing an exes’ wedding, tying up the themes of the album with powerful metaphorical imagery.
All of this sounds heavy, and lyrically it is, but this is where Death Cab for Cutie’s breezy instrumentals come in. The lines that would be hard to listen to sound weightless when on top of a tight, minimal rhythm section and atmospheric guitars. All of this combines into an album that is the definition of a grower: you don’t even notice when you repeat “Title Track” for the fifth time in a row or whisper “what ghosts exist behind these attic walls” to yourself over and over.