Death Cab for Cutie
Asphalt Meadows


3.7
great

Review

by BlushfulHippocrene STAFF
September 22nd, 2022 | 24 replies


Release Date: 09/16/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Time passed and that was that

Some, I think, will be disappointed to find that Asphalt Meadows doesn’t quite live up to the promise of ‘Roman Candles’. Nor, exactly, does it fulfil that promise. Released all the way back in May, ‘Roman Candles’ was met with near-universal praise, whetting the appetites of fans of Death Cab for Cutie, and stoking a renewed sense of excitement for the future of the band. So, too, has Asphalt Meadows been met with considerable praise from (most) fans and critics in the week following its release. But most unlike ‘Roman Candles’ which, with its dirty, distorted kick and menacing spurts of guitar, promised something altogether new from the band, Asphalt Meadows as it stands sounds a lot like what one might (hope to) expect from Death Cab for Cutie in 2022.

This, though, and more. Because regardless of one’s criticisms of contemporary Death Cab for Cutie – whether that be in its post-Walla Kintsugi period, or from some even earlier point – it’s clear that the band has retained throughout this period a significant part of its early DNA. And what the band does on Asphalt Meadows is that it manages not only to reuse portions of that DNA – acknowledging and taking account of what made its music so good and affecting in the first place – but to repurpose that same DNA to great and new and exciting effect.

Take opener ‘I Don’t Know How I Survive’, for example, whose thin, rubbery guitar and cloyingly sweet handclaps are more reminiscent of Thank You for Today than Plans. But which, with a five-second wave of distortion in its chorus, jolts us right the *** back to the We Have the Facts era, before returning us once more to the song's earlier sweetness, and weaving a gorgeous array of beeps and bloops and other sounds into its increasingly dense, increasingly beautiful soundscape. If not that, then the exceptional ‘Foxglove Through the Clearcut’, which serves as the album’s centrepiece, and in doing so reaches for Transatlanticism levels of catharsis whilst also doing things the band has never done before. Atop an unfolding swirl of steady drums and muted guitar warbles, Gibbard delves into spoken word, spinning a narrative about a man living at the edge of America.

As ever, Gibbard’s lyrics betray a preoccupation with themes of distance and modernity, precarity and flux. Moreover, on Asphalt Meadows, the Death Cab frontman is concerned with what it means to come to terms with the past, both individually and as a society – and what it takes to move forward. To this end, the sound of Asphalt Meadows – taking the old, and imbuing it with the new – provides fertile ground for the exploration of Gibbard’s particular concerns.

And yet, Asphalt Meadows feels far less cohesive (thematically) as an album than, say, Transatlanticism, whose own songs acted as building blocks towards a final sense of catharsis. Asphalt Meadows, by contrast, feels fragmented, each song offering its own unique moment of epiphany and transformation. This is good and bad. On the one hand, it allows the band to continue down the road of subtle reinvention that characterised much of its early career – this without having to commit to the ambition of a ‘concept album’. On the other, it lends itself to a song like ‘I’ll Never Give Up on You’ which, despite closing out the album, has the effect of deflating whatever conclusion the rest of the songs – particularly ‘Fragments From the Decade’, the penultimate track, and the earlier title track – appeared to have been building towards. Sonically, the song makes sense, marrying a much-needed poppiness and levity to the harsher, more apocalyptic tones of Congleton's production. And indeed, it's easy to imagine the credits rolling. Gibbard’s lyrics, though – his extended ‘Gave up on [x], but I’ll never give on you’ – along with the repetitiveness of the song’s chorus lend themselves far better to a single than any kind of closer.

Still – despite this fragmentation, and despite the fact that, contrary to what ‘Roman Candles’ might have suggested for the album, Death Cab for Cutie’s most ‘experimental’ album in decades is also one of their most streamlined – Asphalt Meadows showcases some of the band’s best tendencies. The album is – by turns – fun, sad, lethargic, exciting, and genuinely stirring. A demonstration not only of what the band has done, but what it can do. And as good an example as any that streamlining one’s sound does not always mean losing inspiration. In this way, Asphalt Meadows not only lives up to but truly, actually fulfils the promise of Death Cab for Cutie – of music not always new, or unique, or 'experimental', but always, always genuine, and always, always packed with emotion.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2022


3972 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

What's our favourite Death Cab album? Writing this made me relisten to Something About Airplanes and I love it much more than I remember. Could never get that into The Photo Album.

Fearlessflyer1986
September 22nd 2022


139 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I actually think The Photo Album is their best effort lol.

theBoneyKing
September 22nd 2022


22755 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review! I’m so happy with this album - I like almost every song quite a lot, even if as you note there’s not much cohesion across the tracklist. It does feel like what late era Death Cab was meant to be.

Sowing
Moderator
September 22nd 2022


42158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Excellent review. I'm still letting this grow on me. I enjoy the elaborate/artistic moments more than the rest ('Foxglove Through The Clearcut' is one of the best Death Cab songs in a while), but even the straight-up indie-pop tracks aren't bad. 'I'll Never Give Up On You' is super catchy.

Crawl
September 22nd 2022


2905 Comments


Photo Album is my favorite as well.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2022


46884 Comments


wheat like waves is so good. reminds me of prime weakerthans

BigTuna
September 22nd 2022


5790 Comments


I'm digging this so far.

Lender
September 22nd 2022


190 Comments


Plans was my first DCFC album so that one will always have a special place in my heart for me.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2022


4229 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Kinda a weird album to assess. I really really like Foxglove Through The Clearcut, Wheat Like Waves, and Fragments From The Decade. Everything else is borderline great to meh...



Feels like it could generally be a grower though.

Cormano
September 22nd 2022


3714 Comments


for me it's transatlanticism i even got it on ink

very excited to listen to this one, I really have missed this band

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2022


4229 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Really nice review, by the way, Blush!

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2022


3972 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Thanks friends.



I need to return to The Photo Album. I think I'd like it more now. We Have the Facts was my favourite for the longest time, but I think Transatlanticism's considered a classic for a reason.

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2022


3972 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

'I really really like Foxglove Through The Clearcut, Wheat Like Waves, and Fragments From The Decade. Everything else is borderline great to meh...'

I agree with this. The only songs I actually dislike are Pepper and the closer, and even they have their redeeming qualities; but then, I'm also v tolerant of Death Cab even at their 'worst', and the highs on this are really quite high.

haggmeez
September 23rd 2022


97 Comments


I've only ever listened to Plans. I'll have to check it out.

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
September 23rd 2022


6216 Comments


I like Facts the best

Zoinks
September 23rd 2022


1 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Transatlanticism then Plans then probably this.

Fearlessflyer1986
September 23rd 2022


139 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I Miss Strangers and the title track are my favorites out of the bunch for me so far.

Conmaniac
September 23rd 2022


27255 Comments


A blush dcfc review oh my
Hype to listen and read this now yay

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2022


3972 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Love you Con, lemme know what you think of the album.

theBoneyKing
September 24th 2022


22755 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Crazy that Strangers wasn’t a single. What a banger.

Anyway, I’m slapping a 4 on this. It’s kind of on the line between strong 3.5 and light 4 and could flip either way but I’m happy to go with the optimistic side for a great comeback from one of my favorite bands.



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