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cd review: Morbid Death Cab Still Lovable

Indie Band...s Latest Deals With Love and Loss in ...Plans...

By Andrew Guerra


Death Cab for Cutie

Atlantic Records/Barsuk

I admit it. I thought Death Cab for Cutie sold out. All the signs were there. They jumped labels from the tiny Barsuk to the powerhouse Atlantic Records. They made an appearance on “The OC,” America’s newest favorite soapy drama about teenagers. The group’s front man, Ben Gibbard, even did a successful side project. Yet somewhere along the way, this standard recipe for failure went wrong. Instead of producing a soulless husk of an album and losing all semblance of artistic integrity, Death Cab made one of the most mature, emotionally honest, enjoyable albums I’ve heard in the past year.

“Plans” is Death Cab for Cutie’s fifth full-length release, as mentioned above, their first on Atlantic Records, and their second with Jason McGerr on drums — the first time they have had the same drummer on consecutive albums. It would be unfair to call Death Cab’s sound unoriginal, but they do not stray far from the nearest pop hook. Gibbard’s voice is the central component in nearly all of their songs, with varying amounts of acoustic guitar, percussion, and soft electronic effects arranged around it. In addition, there’s a certain simplicity and placidity to Death Cab’s sound, so those who require complex electronic postproduction or heavy guitar riffs to enjoy music will have to look elsewhere.

However, the main attraction to Death Cab for Cutie lies not in clever or original song construction, but in Gibbard’s lyrics. In the past, the lyrics have focused on the positive and negative aspects of relationships and love, precariously perching on the line between emotional honesty and sentimentality. “Plans” marks a slight topical departure for the band, as the theme of death is introduced and intertwined with that of love. These themes represent the nascent awareness of mortality that the band members themselves have begun to feel as they grow older. As a result, the shadow of missing love hangs over the entire album, represented in songs like “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” “Someday You Will Be Loved,” and “What Sarah Said,” three songs that also happen to be among the album’s standouts.

“Plans” certainly has its faults. The transition to a major label has had its effect on Death Cab’s sound, and at times, there is slightly too much polish on the songs. Certain tracks tend to sound similar to others, and the album as a whole certainly couldn’t be described as cheerful. Yet these are minor points that don’t mar the quality of the album as a whole. For fans of Death Cab for Cutie’s musical style, “Plans” offers the chance to explore the vast range of emotions that accompany mortality and love, and to find favorites among a collection of deeply personal songs.