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Death Cab For Cutie
avoids assimilation

Death Cab For Cutie
Plans (Atlantic)


Not many people have the right to write love songs.
They’re almost always cliché and over-done — the
same saccharine words put to the same trite
melodies on a million different records worldwide.
Most of the time, when I hear a love song, I change
the station, or stop the record, or Frisbee-toss the
CD out the window. But listening to Death Cab For
Cutie’s new album
Plans, an album filled with love
songs, I was actually touched by human emotion —
and no, it wasn’t revulsion. These are not purely
romantic love songs, they are not just ballads;
these are songs of faith in the human race.
For that, I’ll call Ben Gibbard a genius.

Although this album sticks to classic themes, it somehow manages to avoid any of the overblown imagery that
has shredded so many doomed, starry-eyed songsters. Gibbard expresses sadness without seeming
melancholy or angst-ridden, and love without sounding like a valentine. Gibbard’s CD inserts have always read
more like poetry chap books, and this is no exception. My personal standout is probably “Brothers on a Hotel
Bed,” where Gibbard croons, “You may tire of me as our December sun is setting ‘cause I’m not who I used to
be/ No longer easy on the eyes but these wrinkles masterfully disguise the youthful boy below.” There’s no
denying that the man has a way with words, and one that has made him, rightfully, indie royalty.

This album marks Death Cab’s debut on a major label, having moved from long-time label Barsuk Records to
Atlantic, but the group worked hard to ensure that it remained true to its earlier work. The band’s guitarist, Chris
Walla, produced, recorded, and mixed the album, as he has on earlier projects, and the consistency shows.
Although none of the songs on
Plans are quite as eerie as the haunting tones on Transatlanticism, or even The
Photo Album
, this is not even close to being a typical mainstream album.

The biggest change on
Plans is the introduction of heavier synthesizer, possibly inspired by the success of
Gibbard’s side project, The Postal Service. Unfortunately, on some tracks, these seem to come at the expense
of some of Walla’s more intricate and interesting guitar work. In “What Sarah Said,” a remarkably beautiful song
about watching someone you love die, a keyboard bridge substitutes where there should have been a desperate
guitar rift, and it’s noticeable. This is a band with a fabulous guitarist, and it’s hard not to feel as if they should be
using him more. On the opening track, “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” Walla’s guitar work plays perfectly with
Gibbard’s vocals, and once you’re reminded of how fantastic that combination is, you want to hear it on every

Still, it’s clear that the synth-guitar combo works beautifully when there is enough presence of both sounds. On
the album’s first single, “Soul Meets Body,” the guitar and synthesizer play together perfectly, making it a catchy
and organic song all at once. On tracks like “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” the use of synthesized beats helps to
move the song along, despite the lack of guitar. The sudden ending of the song, too, creates a sort of discord
that then highlights the laid-back tone of the following track, “Stable Song,” with surprising grace.

Despite the constant battle of synthesizer and guitar, however, this is an overwhelmingly beautiful album. If I say
there’s room for improvement, it’s only because DCfC has shown us how incredible they can be. This is an
album that will play through your head for days after only one listen, with lyrics that will make you want to be in
love, romantic or otherwise. And, for better or worse, this is the album that will bring Death Cab to more
significant mainstream adoration.