Washington natives Death Cab for Cutie return on Narrow Stairs with somewhat of a more raw and darker sound, but it also has the same poppy melodies you’d come to expect from these indie rockers. Frontman Ben Gibbard has been quoted as saying that the band wasn’t concerned with making an album that is anything more than one that they’d enjoy, and it definitely shows. It seems like it’s already an album that is dividing Death Cab’s hardcore fans, although in my opinion it’s probably their strongest work to date. Basically I think Death Cab for Cutie does on this album what any young band in their position should do; they expand on their sound in a very interesting way, but not so much that they lose sight of their signature sound.
The album starts with the lone sound of Ben Gibbard’s innocent choirboy voice on “Bixby Canyon Bridge” and then builds to a dizzying flurry of distorted guitars. There is definitely a bit of a heavier, less polished sound on a quite a few songs thanks to guitarist/producer Chris Walla. The album version of “I Will Possess Your Heart”, which starts with a 4-minute wordless jam that slowly builds to a confession from the viewpoint of an obsessed stalker is the most noticeable step in a different direction. Though Gibbard’s lyrics are as dark as ever on this album, musically there’s an upbeat optimism to the songs like “No Sunlight” or “Long Division”. Another little gem on the album comes in the form of the Pets Sounds-like “You Can Do Better Than Me”.
The most unrestrained song on the album would probably be “Pity and Fear”, as the Eastern-sounding melody builds over a steady tabla beat to a wall of guitars and feedback until it abruptly explodes into silence. However, Narrow Stairs is not without its more subdued ballads such as “Talking Bird” or “Your New Twin Sized Bed”, which are enjoyable even if they’re not much of a departure from the songs of lost love and heartbreak of their last two albums. And though it’s hard to say whether Narrow Stairs will bring Death Cab for Cutie a larger following or not, I can say that I’ll be looking forward to whatever these guys do in the future.
Favorite Tracks: “Cath…”, “Long Division”, “I Will Possess Your Heart”