Death Cab for Cutie
The Photo Album


3.5
great

Review

by Knott- EMERITUS
November 18th, 2008 | 85 replies


Release Date: 2001 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Photo Album sees a needle slipping slowly into a finer groove where Death Cab are concerned; it's an intelligent album with a lot to offer, especially in Gibbard's word-trickery and Walla's uncanny knack of tying music to moods.

In the arena of musical criticism, there are two elements of songwriting that are inexplicably overlooked far too often. The first is the ability to construct an unforgettable melody; the second, and arguably the most frequent, is the art of imagery. That Death Cab for Cutie's third LP is titled The Photo Album is no accident; the former of these features is itself present in abundance, but the latter is the foundation from which the record builds most of its merit.

Steadier Footing - the album's opening and shortest track - could be mistaken for a prelude were it not so hauntingly graphic. Ben Gibbard, in his now trademark pensieve tone, abandons any percussion in favour of a more stripped atmosphere, which only serves to amplify his vivid description of a scene most of us are familiar with. 'All of our friends were here, they all have gone home/And here I sit, on the front porch, watching the drunks stumble forth into the night', he thinks out loud. Mellow and melodic, the vocal seeps into the back of your mind.

To expect the next nine songs to follow suit, though, would be to entirely underestimate Death Cab's ambition and prowess in terms of crafting a sound which, though distinctly theirs, still manages to be diverse. In part, this is due to Gibbard's voice, but mostly it is an amalgamation of impressive and original guitar riffs, mid-tempo yet striking rhythms and notable but unintrusive quirks.

The Photo Album suffers, at times, from a lack of continuity because of the aforementioned diversity. Several of the transitions between tracks are dodgy at best, and this is especially prominent in the early stages; although Steadier Footing's lack of drums is overcome pretty well when A Movie Script Ending starts, the abrupt ending of the second track doesn't quite fit with the almost full-percussion intro to We Laugh Indoors.

Atop that, Information Travels Faster is a song that, although good in theory and well-written in lyrical terms, does get tedious towards the end of its 4-minute play time. Death Cab prove on We Laugh Indoors that they are capable of writing long (and, for that matter, repetitive) tracks well, but the last minute and a half of Information... is a mis-step on their behalf. That said, the album picks straight back up and Blacking Out The Friction is packed very full of energy and noise, and I Was A Kaleidoscope is probably the single catchiest moment on the record.

Finally, it is nigh-on impossible to publish this review without devoting an entire section to the album's two stand-out tracks, Why You'd Want To Live Here and Styrofoam Plates. As track 5 begins with a menacing guitar riff, you can feel the urgency and passion beneath the very bottom layer of music; Styrofoam Plates, on the other hand, offers a blunt and reflective sparsity which grows to something more powerful around the two-minute mark.

What sets these tracks apart from the other 8, though - and make no mistake, the vast majority of those 8 will have you bopping your head and enjoying the melancholy - is their lyrical content. Where the usually-sentimental Gibbard turns angry on Styrofoam Plates, he growls through his teeth in the midst of a roaring last verse; where he seeks to damn Los Angeles earlier on the album, there is a definite certainty to his tone which, due to its rarity, adds so much to the song when placed alongside the rest of their back catalogue.

The Photo Album sees a needle slipping slowly into a finer groove where Death Cab are concerned; it's an intelligent album with a lot to offer, especially in Gibbard's word-trickery and Walla's uncanny knack of tying music to moods. Some of it is forgettable - after Styrofoam Plates, the last two tracks are certainly an anti-climax - but it's a very listenable stepping-stone for a band capable of doing great things.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Athom
Emeritus
November 18th 2008


17241 Comments


I dont necessarily think that the final two tracks are forgettable, but i can see why you would think so due to them coming right after the best songs on the album (5-8).

fireaboveicebelow
November 18th 2008


6832 Comments


not a bad review at all, this album always makes me hungry

NOTINTHEFACE
November 18th 2008


1685 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The major thing I disagree with you on is that I think "Debate Exposes Doubt" is one of the best songs they've ever written. But you do well at describing this band's more subtle qualities. They are very under-appreciated on this site, IMO.

Granfalloon
November 18th 2008


176 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good album, great review. Styrofoam plates is easily the best off of here.

AtavanHalen
November 18th 2008


17920 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Amazing album, close to a 5 for me.

Keep up the excellent reviews.

Oceanus
September 7th 2011


881 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Steadier Footing is amazing and probably my favorite on here.

chtrenne
August 17th 2012


75 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Easily their best album; a melancholy masterpiece of barely-suppressed anger.

chtrenne
August 17th 2012


75 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

It's all about Styrofoam Plates and We Laugh Indoors.

Ocean of Noise
March 24th 2014


9873 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^ Agreed. Such an underrated album. One of their most emotional releases for sure

Digging: La Dispute - Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair

Ocean of Noise
March 27th 2014


9873 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

A Movie Script Ending and Blacking Out The Friction are also brilliant.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
April 1st 2015


17092 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Styrofoam Plates is one of their best songs

RadioSuicide
April 1st 2015


705 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

as are Coney Island and A Movie Script Ending

theBoneyKing
August 25th 2015


13473 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So this is second best Death Cab why did I not listen to this sooner??

Digging: Lambchop - Nixon

theBoneyKing
September 13th 2015


13473 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Styrofoam Plates is such a powerful song, why can't Gibbard write like that anymore?

Lord(e)Po)))ts
September 13th 2015


39212 Comments


why are you asking silly questions that no one can answer ?

Digging: Elsa Hewitt - Cameras From Mars

theBoneyKing
September 13th 2015


13473 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It was not meant as an actual question, just an expression of my dissatisfaction

oisincoleman64
September 13th 2015


2157 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Styrofoam Plates gets the emotions going

torts
January 14th 2016


4300 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

: ' )

TheWrenKing
March 24th 2016


1631 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

if gridlock caravans was twice as long it would be like top 5 death cab songs

theBoneyKing
April 11th 2016


13473 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

We Laugh Indoors is a classic Death Cab tune.



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