May 18, 2008


Death Cab Is Up for the Long Haul (R J SMITH, 5/18/08, NY Times)

His band is named for a 1960s rockabilly parody by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, about a gal, Cutie, who hails a taxi for a fatal night of cheating on her boyfriend. “Baby, don’t do it,” the lyrics go. “Someone’s gonna make you pay your fare.”

Death Cab for Cutie is all about paying the fare. On the new “Narrow Stairs” (Atlantic), its sixth studio album and second on a major label (“Plans,” from 2005, was the first), the band ponders the cost of giving up on hope and decides that depression is just not worth the sticker price. On the surface this is Death Cab’s darkest, noisiest music yet. One love song gets going with the lyric “I’m starting to feel like we’re staying together out of fear of dying alone.” By the song’s end, though, the narrator realizes the problems are his, and fixable. By the album’s end the listener will probably realize that hope is peeking out of a meerkat hole.

The band paid the fare in its career too. Death Cab emerged before blogger buzz could help a nobody get an overnight record deal and a guest spot on “Saturday Night Live.” The members built an initial fan base the way earlier Seattle bands did in the 1990s, schlepping their way across clubland and honing their sound on indie releases. But a few albums in, blogs and social networks began crossing wires and sparking careers, and Death Cab saw both a boost and a backlash.

Nowadays the second release on a major label is often the end of a plot arc for bands that parlayed Internet buzz into a deal. But there’s no flop sweat apparent on “Narrow Stairs,” an unsettling, confident album that reaffirms Death Cab as an increasingly rare thing: a career rock band.

In a postgrunge Seattle, where eclecticism rules — as if there has been a decree that no unifying trend should ever again emerge and bring national attention and thousands of Angelenos to town again — Death Cab’s misty chords and cold steel hooks are as much a musical center as the town has these days. “I marvel at people from other places who identify themselves as rock stars in the press,” the bassist Nick Harmer, 33, said. “Because it is an insult — an insult! — to be known that way here.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 18, 2008 7:51 AM

Another good band with a name that's embarrassing to say. Like The Feelies, for example.

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at May 18, 2008 10:30 AM

I still think the best pop band you have linked to is Vampire Weekend. As you may have alluded to, their name is kind of dumb but their music is great.

I also really liked The Feelies.

Posted by: pchuck at May 18, 2008 10:36 AM

The best music I've discovered for myself in a long time is the band Luna, especially the album Romantica (2002) but also Bewitched (1994). Kind of like the The Feelies with 75% more melody and hooks and 30% less drone.

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at May 18, 2008 10:55 AM

If I remember right, at least one of the members of The Feelies was in Luna.

And Luna arose out of the break up of 80's band Galaxie 500.

Posted by: Twn at May 19, 2008 10:27 AM