Major Label Debut For Acclaimed Alternative Band

Death Cab For Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard probably reads “Romeo and Juliet” as light comedy. Calling him a “hopeless romantic” would be an understatement of Grand Canyon-like proportions. If Bryan Ferry wears his heart on his sleeve, Gibbard wears it on a Times Square billboard with a seriousness I can't recall hearing expressed outside of opera.

I gotta say I'm probably twice his age but in all my time I've never been hooked on anyone the way Gibbard expresses his starry-eyed devotion to his beloved, actual or fictional, and sets out his life's romantic Plans. I'm not saying that's good or bad, it's just the way it is, and the way I am.

This set of mostly relentlessly daring, loving tunes, many set to march-like cadences, will leave you slack-jawed as one after another, the singer professes his undying unyielding love and his idealistic quest for the merging of souls.

Gibbard does for love here what The Arcade Fire does for death on Funeral and on tracks like “Your Heart Is an Empty Room,” you will hear many musical similarities: in the rhythm, bass lines and elegantly placed sentiment. Though in “What Sarah Said,” (which, we learn was “love is watching someone die”), he mines the same ground. The song's last line, “So who's gonna watch you die?” tells you Mr. Gibbard is thinking ahead…way ahead!

On the opener, “Marching Band of Manhattan,” which begins with a wedding procession-like swell, he imagines opening his mouth wide enough for a marching band to pour through, calling his beloved's name and making it “…sing and bend through alleys and bounce off all the buildings.”

Gibbard imagines and wishes to live where “soul meets body,” in a song that seems to imply that the soul connection trumps the carnal one. Now that's a jump off a tall cliff without looking in today's pop music world!

There's a “September Song”-like summer love song, but Gibbard's ends, not just with the girl leaving after Labor Day, but with the couple shedding their summer skin and “peel(ing) the freckles from our shoulders.” Now that's taking “I've Got You Under My Skin” to a whole 'nother level!

In "Different Names For the Same Thing," the ecstatic and expressive Gibbard ruminates on the limitations of words.

The listener never gets to hear the beginning of this romance but we do get to hear how Gibbard imagines the end, in his “'til death do us part” song, “I will Follow You Into the Dark,” which has him promising to follow his beloved into the dark “…with hands clasped so tight.”

Many of these tunes could be re-imagined as “power pop” type overdone ballads (don't retch), but thankfully Gibbard and company adopt alterna-rock, drum, bass, guitar simplicity most of the way on this simply, but effectively produced and recorded gem.

Mr. Gibbard does for earnest love what Sufjan Stevens does for faith: he makes it believable and desirable and ideal, even for both grizzled, cynical elders, and more importantly for a generation supposedly defined by “gangsta rap,” American Idol pap and what's passed off as “alternative rock” on the KROQ-type corporate radio stations.

This is exhilarating, life-affirming material that knows no, and seeks no generational audience. It's Fred and Ginger, Sonny and Cher, and Romeo and Juliet and is highly recommended, especially on the double 180g vinyl set which after a few dozen plays on CD before it arrived, opened vast expanses of space and enriched the harmonic structure of the music, not to mention its meaning, even if, as I suspect, the source was digital. Warning: there's faux vinyl noise added on Different Names For the Same Things: it is not your pressing. Mine was otherwise silent throughout.

BTW: the Bonzo Dog Album was Gorilla.

Also recommended: Death Cab's Transatlanticism also on SACD, and The Photo Album from 2001. And, if you like this, check out Gibbard's side project, the synth backed The Postal Service. There's lots of Death Cab on vinyl:

Music Direct Buy It Now