Death Cab for Cutie
Narrow Stairs


4.0
excellent

Review

by Point1 USER (13 Reviews)
August 21st, 2013 | 14 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Narrow Stairs is an excellent, varied indie-pop album hindered by inconsistency.

Death Cab for Cutie get a lot of bad press from all directions. For one thing, they're incredibly easy targets for people who disparage indie-pop as faux-hipster garbage: they have the crummy band name, the melodramatic lyrics, and especially the female teenage fanbase. For another, their own fans usually track their decline from 2003's Transatlanticism as fairly linear from album to album. While there is some value in that opinion, Narrow Stairs is not a record that should be brushed aside by any means as a late-era mediocre Death Cab album. It contains some of the band's best material, interspersed with some of their least essential (and most tediously self-indulgent) work, and what it lacks in consistency it more than makes up for in surprising ambition.

It's easy to pick out problems with Narrow Stairs. There's an eight-minute song. The last two tracks are boring. Every time Ben Gibbard records vocals they sound more exaggerated than the last. These added onto the aforementioned targets make it too easy to treat the album like a last swing at artistic relevance. They aren't wrong, but there's so much strong material here that it deserves a listen. Interestingly, considering its ambition and variance, Narrow Stairs is immediately rewarding. Some of Death Cab's most appealing "single-bait" is here; what "Long Division" and "Cath..." lack in depth they more than make up for in catchiness and charm, the former especially being a personal favourite. At the same time, "I Will Possess Your Heart" demands the right environment to be anything more than pretty but a bit long.

This band always aspired to present emotional vulnerability in a way that would directly connect the listener to Gibbard's lyrics, but on Narrow Stairs it's interesting how often Gibbard is a bystander. "Cath...", "Long Division", "Your New Twin-Sized Bed", and to a lesser extent "Bixby Canyon Bridge" all present an observer's perspective, and Gibbard's talents for description and metaphors make this a successful transition. While to overly analyze the lyrics would take far to long, suffice to say that it's a genuinely sad album lyrically, thankfully contrasted by a Smiths-esque peppy instrumental section. The musical variety of the album, bouncing from peppy indie-rock to jazz to vintage pop to who knows what, often within songs is different from anything the band has released previously. There is a bit of an over-reliance on bouncy old-timey pop (I can't hear "You Can Do Better Than Me" without Zooey Deschanel popping into my head), but a strength of the variety is that no two songs sound too alike. If you don't like "No Sunlight", "Cath..." is completely different. Even the two connected tracks, "You Can Do Better Than Me" and the album highlight "Grapevine Fires" are divorced tonally and genre-wise. Despite the mish-mash of styles, the production is still superb, but specific mention must be given to Nick Harmer, whose bass work is constantly outstanding throughout the record.

While there may be clear problems with Narrow Stairs, it more than compensates. While less straight-forward and "Death Cab-y" than Plans, it contains some of the best work done by the band, and remains a consistently pleasant listen even in the moments when not overly compelling. While the compilation-type organization may sacrifice cohesiveness and consistency, it does make for an enjoyable listen, and an album that should absolutely not be overlooked by fans of the band's work.



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user ratings (955)
Chart.
3.4
great
other reviews of this album
Adam Knott EMERITUS (3.5)
The indie-pop outfit's darkest offering yet hits more than it misses, but is a fairly heavy listen c...

timbo8 (4)
Death Cab for Cutie get abrasive and make their best album yet....

Ryan Flatley EMERITUS (3)
Narrow Stairs is an ambitious journey that falls short in the end....


Comments:Add a Comment 
hogan900
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2013


1730 Comments


nice review, always found myself listening to a lack of color when I was i was in middle school. Lol but this sounds good.
Pos

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2013


1687 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Grapevine Fires rules, but I find the other tracks rather boring compared to their other material.

Point1
August 21st 2013


197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I can see how you'd get there. A big point of this review is that I got into Death Cab in 2009 with Transatlanticism and Plans, and didn't even bother with this because of the low score. Gave it a listen last year and it blew my mind how good it was so I thought I should give my appeal for giving it a solid shot.

hogan900
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2013


1730 Comments


trans was pretty good, hopefully this can come somewhat close to the feeling i get of that.

Point1
August 21st 2013


197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's not quite as personal; based on your Empire!Empire! review that seems more your jam. This is more of an indie-pop album than Trans. The lyrics are very solid though so I'd give it a shot.

hogan900
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2013


1730 Comments


Trans had some great lyrics, and jeez, I listen to a lot of stuff! But i listened to a good portion of indie stuff like this yesterday for some odd reason, mostly Bon Iver, but this is worth a shot!

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2013


1687 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I Will Possess Your Heart just seems like an attempt to recreate Transatlanticism (the song) to me. Or maybe it's just what I'm reminded of for some reason (and not because it's anywhere as good as Trans...)

Cormano
August 21st 2013


993 Comments


i will possess your heart is dope i dont hear any simmilarities with transatlanticism

Cormano
August 21st 2013


993 Comments


good review also

jtswope
August 21st 2013


2494 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good album. Good review.

kingjulian
August 21st 2013


1298 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Album's alright. Grapevine Fires, Cath and The Ice is Getting Thinner are good songs.

jtswope
August 21st 2013


2494 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

No Sunlight is a jam.

minty901
August 21st 2013


2084 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i will possess your heart is one of their best songs. the review is nicely written but sounds way too defensive. i prefer it when reviews are written almost in a vacuum, expressing YOUR own opinion. here you spend almost the entire review addressing OTHER peoples opinions, why they may or may not be correct, and how the qualities in this album can be used to defend the band against negative opinions. who gives a shit what other people think, if you regard the album as excellent then write a review saying why you think it's excellent.

each to their own i guess.

ThenamesTrenton
August 21st 2013


88 Comments


Shit name for a band.



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