...an adventurous album...
Rowan Collinson 2008
Death Cab For Cutie's endorsement from teen soap, The OC, was one of rock's most unlikely couplings since the Flaming Lips appeared on Beverly Hills 90210. The result; a major label deal and a million selling album, Plans, has meant its follow-up is one of this year's most eagerly awaited records.
Narrow Stairs is a markedly different album to its predecessor. Ben Gibbard's distinctive voice is still there, but musically it's a dense, challenging affair with the layered guitars on Bixby Canyon Bridge and the discordant piano and bass of single I Will Possess Your Heart setting the tone for the whole album. Anyone expecting the lush warmth of Plans may be initially repelled.
On repeated listen however, Narrow Stairs slowly reveals its delights. The subtle organ underpinning Gibbard's yearning vocal on Grapevine Fires gets better every time, and is credit to guitarist Chris Walla’s understated production, while Twin Sized Bed marries a smart lyric to a nagging melody. There may be no immediate pop gem like Transatlanticism's Sound Of Setttling, but the Pet Sounds-style timpanis and bells of You Can Do Better Than Me shows Death Cab have a musical palette far wider than most of their peers.
Death Cab For Cutie may not rival Wilco in the challenging alt-rock stakes yet, but Narrow Stairs is an adventurous album from a band who could've easily made another record of alt-rock by numbers. Just don't expect them to soundtrack any more sun-kissed American teen dramas anytime soon.