Review Summary: Narrow Stairs is an ambitious journey that falls short in the end.
Optimistic. It was the first word that came to mind the first time hearing the new Death Cab For Cutie album. Why not? After all, the first song was everything and more that I thought Death Cab For Cutie had the potential for. Their last two releases, Transatlanticism
left an unimpressionable taste that barely had me clawing back to listen for more. But this time will be different. Narrow Stairs
will be that album, or so I thought.
begins with “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” a leery, yet joyous affair. Building up confidently and boldly, it soon trots on triumphantly with that almost cute, fuzzy electric guitar accompanied by a fuck
bass line. Between Ben Gibbard’s haunting vocals, and the near My Bloody Valentine aspects of “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” the track shows the ambitious indie-rock nature of Narrow Stairs.
From there it only builds steam with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” an uncanny song for Death Cab standards beginning with a instrumental introduction of over four-minutes. Between the groovy drumbeat and bass of “I Will Possess Your Heart,” it really never becomes overwrought. In addition to that, guitars and piano trickle from above onto a lavish musical landscape that makes it a spaced-out affair. This is all before Gibbards soulful lyrics, ‘You gotta spend some time, love/you gotta spend some time, with me/and I know that you’ll find love/I will possess your heart,’ that don’t exactly climax a song to something that could have been much larger in stature. And from there, it never retains its glowing introduction to Narrow Stairs
From the opening tracks, it seemed like Ben Gibbard and Death Cab had found their niche. But what once started as something fresh and daring soon became safe and almost seemingly predictable. More heartfelt tunes such as “Grapevine Fires” and “You Can Do Better Than Me” continue with that same sappy ring to an already depressing and seemingly upbeat track, respectively. Gibbard’s vocal elsewhere continue with the few words and syllable verses with that poppy edge grabbing the throats of the weak and the wounded. For some, it is hard not to get lost in his vocals between such savvy indie-pop songs. It’s like the infamous song, “Such Great Heights,” from the side project of Gibbard, The Postal Service,
that reminds everyone so clearly that regardless of the music behind his voice, that he can sweep millions of their feet. “Long Division” hooks and seemingly messy, in a good way, guitar work is a track that will get people jumping and dancing all around the country. Additionally, the bluesy “Cath…” intricately bops between upbeats and a infectious chorus. But for every indie-pop success, comes a confused Death Cab For Cutie identity. Unfortunately, it becomes one too many and some prime examples include the awkwardly trudging tribal-esque “Pity And Fear,” and the seemingly cheesy “No Sunlight.” From here, the optimism has truly diminished.
Overall, Death Cab For Cutie fell at a point that is essential for every band; a unique identity. Caught between the indie-pop that they so cleverly deviated and their new found ambitious sound, Death Cab For Cutie have lost themselves. Whether it was lost with Ben Gibbard’s heart is another story. But one thing is for sure, Gibbard is here to stay and continue to pour his heart out for everyone to listen to. Even if it just the same old sob story.