I currently don’t have internet, so usually daily, I head to the end of my block and set up shop in the library of Portland Community College, to write a few emails, and catch up on things. Make plans, so on. Today, I hopped on, and got on a favorite site of mine, The Leakage Channel, which is a wonderful little corner of the world to come across leaks of albums that should not be heard by common ears, just yet.
I opened the site to find Narrow Stairs, the long-awaited follow up to Death Cab For Cutie’s 2005 album Plans, staring me in the face. Now, I’m a big fan of Death Cab For Cutie. A week ago, I found the album cover staring me in the face, and I’m not lying when I say that this made my hair wet, I was so excited. I clicked on the link… only to find myself Rick Roll’d. Needless to say, I was annoyed.
However, today, it felt like the war was over, and I happily downloaded the new album, and came home to put it on. I decided that a record like this deserves a live, track-by-track review, and so, without further ado…
Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs: Live
1. “Bixby Canyon Bridge”
I first heard this song recently in the bootleg of the 4/19 performance in Eugene, OR. The song blew me away completely, even in bootleg format. As I write this, I have tears in my eyes from how perfect and beautiful this song is. If this is any, and I mean ANY, indication of how perfect this album will be, I think Death Cab have really struck on something as perfect as what they touched on with Transatlanticism and Plans. The song packs a noisy breakdown, and after that breakdown, Gibbard’s voice comes back in, singing, “And then it started getting dark/I trudged back to where the car was parked/No closer to any kind of truth/as I must as assume was the case with you.” At this point, I’m just glad nobody’s around to see me cry just a little bit.
2. “I Will Possess Your Heart”
The track we’ve all already heard by now, of course, somehow better than it was without “Bixby Canyon Bridge” before it. With a 4:35minute wordless intro, it seems weird when the instruments quiet down so that you can focus on Ben Gibbard’s voice. With a wonderful bass-line, a simple drum beat, and Ben’s piano at work, though this song may be a little much for some listeners (the song clocks in at 8:35), for me, everything is just elegantly perfect here.
3. “No Sunlight”
More grooviness. Demonstrating Chris Walla’s wonderful guitar work, and Gibbard’s sweet lyrics, I can see this becoming a personal favorite from the record. I don’t have much else to say about the song at this moment, but give it sometime, love, and I promise I’ll have more to say.
To be honest I had gotten used to the acoustic version that was released some time ago. However, it does nothing to detract from the quality of the song itself. “As the flashbulbs burst,” Gibbard sings, “she holds a smile like someone would hold a cry child.” It seems, as these songs progress, that Gibbard has gotten good at writing about loneliness and sorrow, and it suits him perfectly.
5. “Talking Bird”
Lo-fi, much? A slow song with extremely simple instrumentals, and quiet vocals, it goes to prove what I said about Gibbard’s sorrow. I’m not truly sure who hurt Gibbard or why, or what happened between Narrow Stairs and its predecessor Plans, but it may very well have been the stroke of genius that he needed to pull off what I’m hearing.
6. “You Can Do Better Than Me”
An upbeat sounding song… “I’m starting to feel like we stay together out of fear of dying alone.” Almost feeling like the companion to Plans’ “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” all I can think of is how well the upbeat instrumentals go with lyrics like “You can do better than me, but I can’t do better than you.”
7. “Grapevine Fires”
Almost feeling like a cut from The Photo Album, I think this is one of my favorite songs from this album, even though it’s barely into it. Singing about wildfire like the end of the world, and interacting well with the push-pull of the drum beat, the song demonstrates Gibbard’s simple song writing, and guitarist Chris Walla’s ability to create memorable, but never overpowering, guitar lines. Definitely a song to let wash over you.
8. “Your New Twin Size Bed”
“You look so defeated lying there in your new twin size bed/with a single pillow underneath your single head/I guess you decided that old queen was more space then you would need/Now it’s in the alley behind your apartment with a sign that says it’s free” – Again, more lonely pain from Gibbard, singing about a woman finally giving up on finding someone to share a big bed with. “It’s like we’re in some kind of hurry to say goodbye.” Here, the pain of Gibbard’s voice really seeps in, as if he’s written the song about himself, and not about another.
9. “Long Division”
Now the album picks up a little bit, reminding me greatly of “We Laugh Indoors,” right down to the repeat of a phrase. This is another song that feels like it would have been perfect on The Photo Album, and holy shit listen to that solo that Walla hammers out!
10. “Pity & Fear”
Holy shit. That’s really all I can say about this song. With another noisy breakdown (like that of “Bixby Canyon Bridge”), this song feels like Gibbard came to the band and said, “ALRIGHT! Let’s tear shit up!” and what came of it was this. “I have such envy for the stranger lying next to me/Who wakes in the night/who wakes in the night/who slips out into the pre-dawn light/no words, a clean escape/no promises or messes made/who chalks it all up to mistake, mistake, mistake. And there are no tears, just pity and fear. The vast reveal right in between.” The lyrics here are pained and you feel sorry for the person Gibbard sings on behalf of here.
11. “The Ice Is Getting Thinner”
Softly, now. “We’re not the same, dear, as we used to be,” sings Gibbard softly, and ever so fittingly. “The seasons have changed, and so have we.” Gibbard has always been the master of soft closers for his albums. Again, tears come to my eyes as Gibbard sings his weather-beaten and defeated song. “And the ice kept getting thinner, every word that we’d speak.” The song reminds me greatly of the slowly growing, hopeful yet pained air of Plans’ “Stable Song,” and Transatlanticism’s “A Lack Of Color,” another song demonstrating Gibbard’s loneliness and grief.
I now sit in complete silence, in awe of the record that I have just heard. I am probably very biased, due to the fact that Death Cab For Cutie is one of the few bands that I idolize, but I will tell you that, for once, MTV has it right. This is, without a doubt, the best thing that these boys have made, and I hope that this does even more for them than their last two albums, because if this album is any sign of what’s to come from Ben Gibbard and his merry men, they are going to be remembered for a very, very long time.