Friday, July 15, 2011

Death Cab for Cutie

A few weeks back I picked up Seattle band Death Cab for Cutie's latest album, Codes and Keys, and that's inspired me to write about the group that, over the past few years, has – with their melodic, atmospheric sound and singer Ben Gibbard's distinctive voice – become one of my favourite bands.

Warning: embarrassing guilty pleasure alert

The first time I really became aware of them was via the television series The O.C., which I wound up watching for no particularly good reason other than people talked about it a lot and I – as I tend to do with such things – wanted to find out why, and got sucked into it.

Anyhoo, my indefensible fondness for dubious teen-centric (and profoundly guilty of what TV Tropes refers to as Dawson Casting) US television notwithstanding, the point is that Death Cab (for short) was the favourite band of one of the characters, and the first episode of the second season featured the then-current single, Soul Meets Body, which I liked enough that I bought the album it came from, Plans – and I was very pleased to find that I liked the rest of the album as well; it has some great songs on it, including I Will Follow You Into the Dark, a song that belongs to a very elite list: those songs I would want, were the (unlikely) event to ever occur, to be played at my wedding1.

Here's the video:

1The criteria is that it must be both to some extent romantic, but in what I feel is a genuine, unsentimental way. It's a very short list; I mention the two Darren Hanlon songs on it in this post.

Sometimes it doesn't happen straight away

While I didn't buy the follow-up album, Narrow Stairs, when it first came out, I did buy it – I'd heard and liked the first single, I Will Possess Your Heart2 – so it seemed like a good idea.

But when I played it, I didn't like it – so it went into the pile of 'out-of-regular-play' cds in my spare room3.

However, the reason I have an 'out-of-regular-play' pile is that, if I feel like listening to something I haven't heard for a while, I can go to it and dig something out for a listen. About a month or so ago I spotted it in the pile and decided to give it another spin.

This time I found I did like it; there's a captivating darkness and bittersweet melancholy to it, and great songs such as You Can Do Better Than Me, and Bixby Canyon Bridge – and I grew to really like the album version of I Will Posses Your Heart, which has a four-minute instrumental intro4 that the single version doesn't, and which (for no reason I can grasp) I didn't like the first time I heard it.

One song in particular, Grapevine Fires, really got inside my head; it's an odd song to like so much: apparently, it's about a 2007 bushfire in suburban California. But it's an amazing, haunting combination of music and lyrics, with a particularly intriguing5 drum part – according to Wikipedia it's a variation on a classic pattern called the Purdie Shuffle.

Anyway, here's the video. I only saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it's awesome – if for no other reason than the on-screen line 'where's my keytar?' at about 1:136.

2This is definitely not a song for the wedding list; it's more about being a creepy stalker.
3As distinct from the 'unlikely to see the light of day again' box of cds, also in my spare room.
4They are a bit of a 'jam band' at times; a couple of songs on Plans have fairly lengthy instrumental sections.
5Well, if you're a drum aficionado like I am.
6Keytars, of course, are inherently awesome.

A slight change of direction

I'd heard the first single, the title track Codes and Keys, once before I got around to buying the album; I thought it okay without it sounding like anything special. But I bought the album anyway, and put it in the car to listen to on the way to work.

While I liked what I heard, there weren't any tracks that leapt out at me straight away. Listening to it a few more times changed that, though; songs like You Are a Tourist, Unobstructed Views and Underneath the Sycamore started to grow on me.

It is, as I've noted, a change in direction – and one confirmed by the band themselves; singer Ben Gibbard says as much in this Spin article. It pretty much boils down to 'less guitar more keyboards', though there's also the fact that Gibbard recently got married, to actress Zooey Deschanel.

So he's a lot happier now than he was before – and it shows. While it's not a bad thing per se (and I certainly don't begrudge someone being made happy, especially when that someone lucky bastard is being made happy by someone as seemingly awesome as Zooey Deschanel), the music of this album doesn't quite resonate with me as much as as the earlier, less cheerful stuff.

But I still like it.

Hoping the gig gods smile upon me

What I'm hoping for now is that the new album means a tour. They've been to Adelaide before, but I've never managed to catch one of their headline gigs; I make the distinction because I have actually seen them play before, way back in maybe 2001 or 2002 (I can't find the details anywhere) as the second support act to Something for Kate. I don't actually remember them at all – I do remember the first support act, Archers of Loaf, who I liked – but did remember the name7.

I've signed up to the mailing list, so – presuming they actually post details of upcoming tours, I'll hear about it when it's announced. Fingers crossed it won't be at some obnoxiously inconvenient time of the year, i.e. during the Fringe/Festival, or on the same night as I'm on stage in a show.

7Incidentally, it's one of my least-liked band names. But I don't let that hold me back; Radiohead is arguably my favourite band, and I hate their name.

1 comment:

  1. Admit it, you went out and bought the whole Seth Cohen starter pack! ;)

    A lot of music from The OC has crept into my iTunes account of the years... Rooney, The Killers, but never actually Death Cab. Might have to remedy that!

    The band I am hoping/praying/genuflecting that will come to Adelaide or even Melbourne is Metric. I discovered them a year AFTER they last came to Oz, naturally, and they don't look like they'll be coming anytime soon. Fingers crossed this changes! Definitely check out their tracks Gold Guns Girls, Sick Muse and Satellite Mind if you get a chance.