Review Summary: And you are beautiful, but you don't mean a thing to me.
Death Cab for Cutie have been around for twenty-one years. Their most acclaimed album was released fifteen years ago. The most successful song they ever wrote first ruined college open-mics thirteen years ago. Their guitarist and producer quit three years ago. That Thank You For Today
is a pleasant, very listenable record is reflective of an aging band trying to create a safe and stable album and somewhat succeeding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most uninspired aspect of the record is Ben Gibbard’s contributions. Formerly the earnest thesaurus-wielding bard of the doomed teenage relationship, Gibbard’s talents for imagery and melodrama appear to have worn over time. Here he struggles even to nail wistful nostalgia, striking out on what would once have been easy bunts. The vapidly pretty Instagram-filtered opener “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” while likely to become a fixture on Urban Outfitters background playlists across the continent, provides little substance on the lyrical front. Neither does lead single "Gold Rush"- a gentrified-coffee-shop-ready song about the tragedy of gentrification, featuring insightful and brilliant rhymes such as "Please don't change/Stay the same."
These flaws are masked with a solid sheet of reverb and keyboards, and the group clearly have learned one or two lessons from departed member Chris Walla about elevating mediocre material with atmospheric beauty. Stepping in on lead guitar, Gibbard does a capable impression of his former bandmate, but what this record ultimately lacks is Walla’s instinct for when a bit of grit and variation is necessary, flattening its sound significantly. Where they do occur, the flourishes – the toothless twang of “Gold Rush” and an effects-heavy lead riff on “Autumn Love” cribbed directly from a 2014 U2 single – disrupt rather than transcend the dreaminess.
Were this record released in 2008 it might be considered disappointing, but in keeping with an album preoccupied with the passage of time Thank You For Today
firmly but gently closes the book on Death Cab for Cutie as an essential indie rock band worthy of deep emotional investment. And that's okay. These are ten pretty, well-produced songs from an aging band that has earned the right to simply release pleasant music.