We’re big fans of Death Cab but even we can see they’re on a downward trajectory. They started high and they’re always well above average — most bands would kill to be as good — but they’ve gone from masterpieces to pop tunes.
Songs like the epic Transatlanticism, the title track of the 2003 album of the same name are long gone, and even tracks like 2008’s I Will Possess Your Heart, which lacked the epic quality of Transatlanticism but hit a fantastic groove for eight minutes — five minutes of build and then a three-minute song, as the band put it — are also missing, though some tracks do hit the same sweet spot.
This new one is clearly Death Cab but it’s Death Cab on autopilot, doing what they do. It’s good enough for us to want to catch the tour and if you’re new to Death Cab (silly name — the title of a 1967 song by Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band — picked as a temporary one before success left them stuck with it) it’s still better than most albums you’ll hear this year.
Opener I Dreamt We Spoke Again is a slow number, drummer Jason McGerr laying down a typical Death Cab metronomic beat but the sound sparser than peak Death Cab.
Summer Years is livelier and the first song where they approach the old sound, which at its best manages not only to touch the emotions of the listener but walk up and give them a thorough massage. Gold Rush opens with a rather uncharacteristic twangy bluesy sound — it’s a lament to the changing face and Amazon-isation of Seattle — but rapidly hits a groove while the gentle Your Hurricane approaches the band at their best.
Lyrically it’s pretty typical. It’s the first album without founding member Chris Walla (he was heavily involved in the last album even though he’d stopped touring) and Autumn Love, about leaving one’s comfort zone, maybe references that, as Ben Gibbard sings: “If there’s no beacon tonight to guide me / I’ll finally break the shackles of direction”.
Opener I Dreamt We Spoke Again returns to one of Gibbard’s themes, ghosts and the afterlife: “I dreamt we spoke, I dreamt we spoke again / It’d been so long, it’d been so long my mind filled in the blanks”, which, like the music, seems to be not quite as good as I Will Follow You into the Dark’s “Love of mine / Someday you will die / But I’ll be close behind / I’ll follow you into the dark”.
But still worth getting; they’re better than most. If they weren’t so good before it would not seem like any kind of decline at all.