Narrow Stairs review by Death Cab for Cutie

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  • Released: May 13, 2008
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 6 (162 votes)
Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
3

Sound — 9
Death Cab For Cutie's quirky new release Narrow Stairs has been receiving quite a bit of buzz, and this is one case where it's justly received. The band has the amazing ability to create songs that sound both melancholy and lighthearted in the same moment, resulting in quite a perplexing experience. There's a variety of styles that DCFC dabbles in on Narrow Stairs, and the band hits it's peak when they put an emphasis on a more cinematic, ambient sound.

The band has made the interesting move of picking I Will Possess Your Heart -- a track in which the vocals don't come into play until halfway through the song -- as the first single. It's a brave move, but perfect choice. The adjectives atmospheric and dreamy come to mind listening to the 8-minute-long track, and it's cool to hear the layers upon layers of instrumentation that are introduced before the vocals even enter the picture. I Will Possess Your Heart is heavy on the effects, with the reverb and echo dripping off of every note, which makes for an interesting contrast to the stripped-down, simple vocals of Ben Gibbard.

DCFC doesn't rely on effects in every track, and it seems like they go in the opposite direction on half of the album. Talking Bird is a solemn number with minimal instrumentation, and lyrically it couldn't get simpler. As the track progresses there are more textures and sounds that are added into the picture, but it never overtakes the melody. What makes Talking Bird stand out so well, however, is that it evokes some strange feelings while listening to it. It doesn't necessarily ooze sadness, but you can't help feeling a little down after you finish it. Any song that leaves you a little emotionally confused has got to be given credit for making its mark.

No Sunlight takes on the hefty role of being one of the few upbeat pop songs on Narrow Stairs, and it's a memorable, although repetitive number. It has a catchy feel much like the older single Crooked Teeth, but this type of song is in the minority on Narrow Stairs. The happy factor has been taken down a notch on this album, and the entire listening experience is a tad moodier. It's not quite as depressing as some people out there are making it out to be, but the closing track The Ice Is Getting Thinner does win the award for the biggest tear-jerker. With just vocals and guitar for much of the song, the main attraction is the lyrics -- and they will rip your heart out at times.

Lyrics — 10
Although definitely sad, songs like The Ice Is Getting Thinner remain poignant and it never seems like the band is shoving a sappy love song down your throat. In every song, regardless of the theme, there is a lot of thought put into every line and Narrow Stairs is one of the best lyrical albums I've heard in quite a while because of it. Inspiration is coming from every direction, with Bixby Canyon Bridge apparently inspired by Jack Kerouac and Grapevine Fires relating to California's brush of wildfires. Even if there are a few songs that musically don't quite emphasize the band's best, the lyrics are always on point.

Overall Impression — 9
Narrow Stairs marks a huge turning point in DCFC's career, and the Washington band has risen to a different level with this release. On Pity And Fear, Bixby Canyon Bridge, and I Will Possess Your Heart the band is at the top of its game, with each one evoking emotion and displaying some incredible musicianship. There are a few tracks that might not reach this same level, but on the whole Narrow Stairs indicates that DCFC probably has a lot more beautifully heart-wrenching music up its sleeve.

19 comments sorted by best / new / date

    mushroom2
    ReiDSaN wrote: Honestly, I thought it was a bit disappointing on first listen. But it's growing on me in a big way and I think I'm really going to be into it come summer.
    i had a similar feeling of disapointment when i first heard the album but thats because i constantly compare all there albums to transatlanticism (which is my joint favourite album ever made) when you listen to the album by itself its fantastic
    stumaster18
    Perfect sophomore record on Atlantic records. Truly amazing album! Death Cab is the best indie band in the world
    jedichewy
    Any DCFC fan will appreciate this album. They have changed in some ways but they do what they do best. An overall good album. Talkig bird is such a nice song. I guess we all have all our own thoughts on it and which album we think was their best so far, as for I, my favorite album is The Photo Album.
    azimuth457
    The_Paranoia wrote: mushroom2 wrote: ReiDSaN wrote: Honestly, I thought it was a bit disappointing on first listen. But it's growing on me in a big way and I think I'm really going to be into it come summer. i had a similar feeling of disapointment when i first heard the album but thats because i constantly compare all there albums to transatlanticism (which is my joint favourite album ever made) when you listen to the album by itself its fantastic As did I the first time. I was really upset that I didn't like it. Then I gave it another go when I was alone and laid back and listened and it was amazing. I think I still like "Plans" more then this one.
    I had a similar feeling as all of you, it felt so raw, like it was all done in one take, this sort of was a big change, as they had a lot of the white-noise-esque backing tracks on older songs, like transatlanticism, for example, with the gear-ish noises in the background. Nonetheless, as it did with you folks, it grew on me quick, and I've tabbed out a few of the songs in my head for guitar and piano already. A great buy, I recommend it to a fan of any of their previous albums.
    glugger
    Armagedn wrote: I don't know about this album, but the last one I listened to put me to sleep. They're not bad, they're just slow and boring. Kinda like STP, but in a different way...
    lol yer they're kind of easy listening. When i got plans, im like "this is nice" but coudn't tell one song from another. Requires many listens to name a song. Good Though.
    riley714
    i wasnt going to buy the cd, but after reading the reviews and comments, im going to. i enjoyed listening to 'plans' and i think im going to like this one too.
    MX4Life
    [quote] GuitarSymphony wrote: Sorry, nowhere near the masterpiece of Trasatlanticism. It's close though. None of the songs really stand out so much. They did away with the acoustic guitar it seems, and that I think was a bad move :\ /quote] true that.
    pwilly0
    GuitarSymphony wrote: Sorry, nowhere near the masterpiece of Trasatlanticism. It's close though. None of the songs really stand out so much. They did away with the acoustic guitar it seems, and that I think was a bad move :\
    It's nowhere near but it's close huh. haha i just thought that was funny. great album as well
    GuitarSymphony
    Sorry, nowhere near the masterpiece of Trasatlanticism. It's close though. None of the songs really stand out so much. They did away with the acoustic guitar it seems, and that I think was a bad move :\
    The_Paranoia
    mushroom2 wrote: ReiDSaN wrote: Honestly, I thought it was a bit disappointing on first listen. But it's growing on me in a big way and I think I'm really going to be into it come summer. i had a similar feeling of disapointment when i first heard the album but thats because i constantly compare all there albums to transatlanticism (which is my joint favourite album ever made) when you listen to the album by itself its fantastic
    As did I the first time. I was really upset that I didn't like it. Then I gave it another go when I was alone and laid back and listened and it was amazing. I think I still like "Plans" more then this one.
    tommytomtomtom
    freakin best death cab album ever, and thats saying a lot cuz plans and translantisism both owned!!!!
    duke_lion
    This album is rather bland. None of the songs are particularly memorable.. I can't see any reason why anyone would think that this is their best album... unless they for some very odd reason don't like their previous stuff or haven't heard it. This kinda reminds me of Coheed's newest album, where most fans that were really into the old coheed stuff thought it kinda sucked, and the people who hadn't heard the old stuff or didn't really like it, thought it was great. ..Except that Narrow Stairs still sounds a lot like death cab's other albums. It's just nowhere near as good. If this album got deleted from my harddrive I certainly wouldn't be in a hurry to download it again.
    Armagedn
    I just listened to some more of their songs and they're not that bad. They can be okay sometims. Some of their songs that stress the instruments a little bit more. I Will Follow You Into the Dark is about the most boring song ever, though...
    Armagedn
    I don't know about this album, but the last one I listened to put me to sleep. They're not bad, they're just slow and boring. Kinda like STP, but in a different way...
    boxcar_smasher
    this is a really good album. the sound of it is kinda like their albums "transatlanticism" and "The Photo Album" put into one album. they are such an amazing band, and they are really good live too.