Album Review: Death Cab for Cutie - Plans

If the reviewer is a fan, then chances are, you know what you are going to get in the review. In terms of being a fan of Death Cab for Cutie, all you have to do is search the archives of my site to see how many times I have reviewed the band, or their shows. I have seen the band a number of times. I own everything that they have ever released. Hell, I even drove to Chicago (from Cleveland) to see Ben Gibbard play an acoustic show at Schuba's Tavern. So, I am left with a couple choices.

I could apologize for being a fan and be hyper-critical and jaded in order to prove to people reading the review that I am not being jaded, or I could just give you my honest opinions about what I love so much about the band and their new album.

I am going to go with the latter, because we all know that other critics (Pitchfork anyone?) will be sure to fill their pages with hyper-critical things because they don't like the band or they think Death Cab for Cutie "sold out" by signing on to Atlantic Records before making this last album. My role, then, must be to even out this disparity.

"Plans" is an album that will not only play a big role in Death Cab for Cutie's future, (obvious) but it will also help predict the future of the continuing adaptation of the underground indie music scene in pop culture. Death Cab's guest appearance(s) on the television show, "The O.C." were one major catalyst that has brought them to where they are today. But, pop culture giveth, pop culture taketh away.

When you are used to selling 10,000 albums, or even 50,000 albums, a break like being written into The O.C. because there was a big fan involved in the show can make your career take off, but nobody knows how sustainable it is. Hype brings people out once, but after that, it is up to the band to keep the momentum going. So far we have proven that television shows influence people, which we already knew, and that Death Cab's last album "Transatlanticism" was up to the challenge of capturing a whole lot of attention. Only time will tell if the new music written by Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, Nick Harmer and Jason McGerr can keep the ever shorter collective attention spans of the fans they made over the last couple of years.

Plans opens with a song called "Marching Bands of Manhattan" and it really sets the tone for the rest of the album. It opens with some church organs as Ben Gibbard begins to sing. One of Death Cab's habits over the last few years since the Stability E.P. has been avoiding formulas related to verse-chorus-verse types of songs. They have instead opted for the slow build from the beginning of songs to the end of songs. It has worked very well up to this point with songs like "Stability" (from the Stability E.P.) "Transatlanticism" and "Tiny Vessels" (from Transatlanticism) and "This Temporary Life," from "The Future Soundtrack of America compilation," which was put out before the last Presidential election.

"Plans" doesn't play like a sequel to any of the band's other albums, but it retains the clean lines and uses production as a tool just like "Transatlanticism" did. These are the benefits of having a guitarist, Chris Walla, who is also a talented producer.

Other highlights to the album include "Different Names for the Same Thing," with its beautiful opening, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," which sounds like it could have been played on the stages of Woodstock (the original.) "Someday You Will be Loved" never reaches the heights that it feels like the band was aiming for, but it doesn't slow down the album too much, because in true Death Cab fashion they finish the disc very strongly.

"Brothers on a Hotel Bed" is the first song in the Death Cab catalog that wasn't originally brought to the table by Ben Gibbard. It was written by Chris Walla and not only does it not stick out among the rest of the Gibbard penned material, but it is one of the better songs on the album. "What Sarah Said" is a gut-wrenching tale of love and loss that is told in Gibbard's patented complete sentence songwriting style. It builds through the whole song until you get to finally hear "What Sarah Said" and if you are human, it will break your heart. "Love is watching someone die. Who's gonna watch you die?"

Finally the band finishes things off with a retake of their song "Stability" from the EP of the same name. This time around, they have changed some of the chords and the arrangement turning it into the appropriately titled, "Stable Song."

And that is how Death Cab leaves us. After appearing on The O.C. After the blockbuster success of The Postal Service. After "selling out" and rising above subsistence in signing a deal with Atlantic Records. The band leaves us with their feelings of stability. They sound energized, but comfortable in their own skin. They didn't repeat their last record, but they also didn't spit in its face in the name of changing.

As for the arc of the band's career and whether they can continue to get bigger, I am not fit to predict the future. What I can say, is that the band has given it their best shot with "Plans." Whether the band sustains for 20 years or 20 months, it will be interesting to see if the mainstream will continue to embrace bands that are used to dwelling in small clubs and on fans' floors. Make no mistake, "Plans" is an album that will please current fans and quite possibly make new ones.

Take it from a fan.