New Thing #70: Death Cab For Cutie

Death_CabWe have a radio station here in the Greater Boston area that calls itself independent radio. I'm not sure exactly what that means other than the fact that occasionally they'll play some songs that you don't usually hear on the radio.

They're also the first to play some of the music that becomes popular later and appears on the Top 40-type radio stations.

I tell you this because it was probably on this station that I first heard Death Cab For Cutie years ago - probably with the song, "Soul Meets Body."

But I'd never heard an entire album by the band.

Last week when I was down in New York, Justin gave me his phone to scroll through the music so I could pick out some new music ideas for 'Music Monday'.

I thought about Wilco, because I'm fairly sure I've never heard a Wilco song, though I've heard lots about the band.

He said that would be a good idea...then said it might be better to start with Death Cab For Cutie before that, and appreciate the songwriting of Benjamin Gibbard. (Interestingly, twice this week on the way to school when I turned on the radio I heard 'Stay Young, Go Dancing' - that helped clinch the decision for me.)

I looked at the band's discography, and saw the songs I recognized - In addition to "Soul Meets Body" there was "I Will Possess Your Soul."

I decided that to start with I'd get the album that featured "Soul Meets Body" - 'Plans.'

It's easy, I think, with Death Cab For Cutie to just say that all of the songs sound the same, because Benjamin Gibbard's voice and the band's style is so distinctive. When you really tune in to the lyrics, you realize that the songs, though stylistically sounding the same, are quite different.

It's great when you listen to a new album for the first time and can pick out a good song. I particularly liked "I Will Follow You Into The Dark", mostly because the first line stood out to me: "Love of mine/someday you will die/but I'll be close behind/I'll follow you into the dark."

Justin shared that his favorite is from the album 'Narrow Stairs' - "Your New Twin Sized Bed".

"What I really like about Benjamin Gibbard's writing," Justin told me, "Is that it's almost visual. He doesn't tell you what's going on. Instead he describes the scene and then you figure it out for yourself. That's why I like 'Your New Twin Sized Bed'."

What's funny is that Justin also used "Brothers On A Hotel Bed", from 'Plans', as an example of Gibbard's writing, which is another song that I liked and listened closely to the words on - mostly because it's just such a strange title. (A glance at the discography hints at the wealth of strange titles - and probable stories told through song.)

(For what it's worth: Justin added this, "I hate when people use the phrase "painting a word picture," but...that's what he does." He wrote this to me just two days after I used the phrase "picture he painted there" to describe the Jason Motte interview with Buster Olney in a post for New Thing #67.)

One last night about Death Cab For Cutie and their distinctive style - Remember when Owl City had that 'Fireflies' hit a couple of summers ago? I knew enough about Death Cab For Cutie's sound to never love that song because I felt like they were absolutely ripping off Benjamin Gibbard's style. I suppose there's a fine line between flattery/inspiration and ripping someone off...but I didn't like it.

I love getting familiar with new music every Monday. This is fun.