On their 10th album there’s something about Ben Gibbard’s plaintive vocals, combined with his band’s ability to create a dreamy melody, which can transport you back in time
Death Cab For Cutie are one of those bands who feel like they should be frozen in the early 2000s – in a world where the television show The OC is on a constant loop, bands like The Shins, Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley ring out wherever you go, and Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman alternate shifts as President. A better world, some may say.
Asphalt Meadows is Death Cab’s 10th album, and although it’s a very different world to which their debut You Can Play These Songs With Chords was released to, they sound exactly the same, 25 years later. There’s something about Ben Gibbard’s unmistakably plaintive vocals, combined with his band’s ability to create a dreamy melody, which can seem to transport you back in time.
So, if Asphalt Meadows is more of the same, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The songs are stronger on this album than they were on their last record, Thank You For Today – the hypnotic opening riff of I Don’t Know How To Survive tells the story of a panic attack in the night hours, complete with ringing in the ears and racing heartbeats, pulls you into the record in compelling fashion. When the chorus rushes in, with a surprisingly muscular kick, it takes you quite by surprise.
Although most of Asphalt Meadows sticks to the tried and trusted Dead Cab template, there are some moments of diversion. Foxglove Through The Clearcut sees Gibbard mournfully reciting a spoken word verse about nature, the environment and Native Americans. It builds up slowly over its five minutes until exploding into a post-rock maelstrom at the end, in compelling fashion.
Mostly though, Gibbard’s wistful, bittersweet songs are the overriding mood of Asphalt Meadows. Pepper is a acoustic strum about the passing of time, with memorable lines like “Sgt Pepper with the faces of friends, but the names all elude in the end”. That chorus of “kiss me just this one last time” also pulls at the heartstrings, and is the sort of thing you can imagine Taylor Swift conjuring up with Aaron Dessner.
I Miss Strangers is a glorious rush of a song, all the more effective for its mid-song drop of pace, while Wheat Like Waves begins by name-dropping seminal ’80s band Prefab Sprout, before getting slightly clunky when talking of the unconditional love of a parent and child (“I could not pretend to comprehend the depths of that kind of love as a childless man”).
There aren’t too many surprises on Asphalt Meadows, but Death Cab For Cutie are at that stage in their career when you probably wouldn’t expect too many. It’s simply another good collection of melancholic indie-rock – and sometimes, that comfort in familiarity is just what you need.