Who would’ve thought five years ago that Death Cab For Cutie, fresh off their minimalist breakthrough, We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, would have endured a stylistic change, survived a near break-up, watched Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service side project eclipse Death Cab’s success after only one album, experienced a boost in popularity themselves, and signed to a major label for their fifth album, Plans?
The band, who announced that they were jumping from birthplace Barsuk Records to Atlantic, were lucky to avoid a lot of the conjecture that comes about when an indie band signs to a major label. Their fans, notoriously loyal, stuck with the group after the announcement and decided to play the waiting game before they made up their minds on the move to Atlantic. Which only makes sense, really–there’s been no need to worry about the band becoming more television ready and accessible since Death Cab beat Atlantic to the punch, taking that leap themselves on their third full-length, The Photo Album.
Plans bears more in common with The Photo Album than its direct predecessor, Transatlanticism, which actually took a step backwards meeting the band’s other albums at their midway point. No need to compromise anymore, as Death Cab have officially dropped the other shoe, putting out their first official pop album.
The worst news first: Ben Gibbard’s lyrics suffer greatly. For the first time in Death Cab’s career, Gibbard’s lyrics are actually the album’s albatross, betraying the strong production from guitarist Chris Walla. The band offer a handful of hazy environments, above average indie pop songs, and Gibbard drops the ball with them. Of course, with his sense of melody he could sing entries from the phone book and it would sound beautiful, but you can’t help but notice the drop from earlier gems to faux-profound sentiments like “There are different names / For the same thing.” The song containing that lyric, titled “Different Names For The Same Thing,” blurs the boundaries between Death Cab and The Postal Service, opening with two verses of a seemingly inebriated Gibbard behind a piano before building into a cascading collage of vocal chops and beeps playfully interacting with digital clicks, a cut-and-paste display well worn by Jimmy Tamborello.
At this stage in their career, the growing reality of death has become prevalent. “What Sarah Said” and “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark” examine how relationships are altered by death in a way that bears parallels with the recently concluded Six Feet Under; “Soul Meets Body” desires a personal utopia where the spirit and body live harmoniously, a wish we’ve had for Death Cab since their first album. What they have since abandoned cerebrally, they’ve invested in the sentimentality of their melodies. Although Plans is mostly solid, it won’t make you forget that upstart band they once were, lulling us into hypnosis instead of soundtracking teen drama.