Review Summary: Something About Airplanes is a record that is equally charming and dismal.
Death Cab for Cutie is not your typical indie rock band. Headed by the ambitious Ben Gibbard, the band has always had a penchant for clever songwriting, witty lyrics, and an overall dry tone. However, this dryness has never hindered the band from creating some of the most lovable and bittersweet songs to emerge from the independent music scene. The band's debut album, Something About Airplanes, kicks off an excellent career with dark subject matter and a taste of Gibbard's thought-provoking lyrics.
Something About Airplanes is definitely one of the band's most underrated albums and stands out as a very humble effort. On this LP, the band does not come across as one that cares what people think of them; they are what they are. They are writing music for the sake of writing music. Period. The music is melancholy and cold, but the execution is fluid and earnest. Death Cab also takes a fairly straightforward approach to their music, but all the instruments feel very reserved and gentle. On the opening track "Bend to Squares", for instance, the drums feel distant and the guitars feel inferior to the violin. Even when the track picks up, Gibbard's vocals as well as the percussion still feel very fragile. However, the delicate touch of Something About Airplanes disguises its somber and downcast undertones.
On the exterior, the LP is an accessible, melodious record, but further exploration uncovers its inherent edginess. "President of What?" highlights a burning romantic jealousy while jamming with a delightful organ. Gibbard sings "nothing hurts like nothing at all" with jaded emotion and strongly mirrors the attitude of the lyrics. Death Cab also provides some very concrete ideas on these tracks. The irony and dark humor of "Champagne from a Paper Cup" sheds light on the world of college partying in an unconventional fashion. "Your Bruise", while open to interpretation, becomes an extremely grim tune when the lyrics are taken literally alongside the eccentric and mischievous guitars. Romance is a theme that permeates the LP, but in a skewed way. This album is filled with envy, disappointment, and hopelessness. There is no conclusive feeling of resolution among these tracks. Instead, they paint a picture of someone who wants to give up and must find a way to move along.
Ben Gibbard's voice is mellow, but unshakable. On tracks like "Picture In an Exhibition", he stretches his voice past its comfort zone and sets some unique hooks in the process. Also, on the quietly painful, "Sleep Spent" he delivers desolate lyrics in such a collected manner. While it is the band's first album, Something About Airplanes does not at any point sound aimless or uncertain. The band's vision is clearly conveyed through the LP's unadorned honesty and conviction.
Furthermore, the feel of the record is not merciful and sugary. The outstanding "Amputations" lashes out at those who make poor decisions that prove detrimental to others. The pounding of the drums at the beginning of the song flows into a spicy guitar riff that is both compelling and attractive. Gibbard inculcates the listener with the line "He's unresponsive because you're irresponsible" to the point at which the listener actually can sense the gravity of the situation and the guilt haunting the person being addressed. These devices are all effective in comprising one of the band's most meaningful songs. After more than one listen, the bond between the songs crystallizes. It soon becomes apparent that Ben Gibbard is not concerned with impressing anyone; he's just being brutally honest on this record.
Aside from the despair and romantic emptiness, Something About Airplanes is a lovely album with plenty of great qualities to satisfy listeners looking for an insightful, yet simple collection of songs. However, the LP's simplicity should not be mistaken for apathy. On this album, Death Cab are in the process of gradually finding their niche, and they leave quite a mark for a small indie band. Through a sound that is equally endearing and forlorn, Something About Airplanes lays the groundwork for a promising group of musicians.
President of What?
Champagne from a Paper Cup
Pictures In an Exhibition