Narrow Stairs review by Death Cab for Cutie

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  • Released: May 13, 2008
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 6 (162 votes)
Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
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Sound — 9
"I descended a dusty gravel ridge... ", Ben Gibbard sings in a somewhat unexpected high pitched and lonely singing voice on the opening song off of Death Cab for Cutie's new album Narrow Stairs. An album released three years after their more mainstream album Plans, which left some loyal fans feeling empty. This time they've given a deeper and a more confusingly saddening album to listen to. "Bixby Canyon Bridge" starts the album off with atmospherical background noises and the lonely single vocal of Ben Gibbard. After a few seconds a fitting guitar riff sets in and balances the melancholy vocals, and before long you have the insertion of pounding drums and distorted guitar and bass, creating a song that is much louder and more experimental. "I Will Possess Your Heart" is a haunting song that many fans might not have expected coming from Death Cab for Cutie. A much more experimental attempt by the band as it begins with a dominant bass line that leaves you entranced from the very beginning. The song slowly progresses with the addition of earthy background sounds that never overtake the steady beat of the drums and bass. "No Sunlight" is one of few 'happy' songs on the album. One of the catchiest songs on Narrow Stairs, it's able to capture your attention with the drum beat and early guitar riff. A solid song that should have you tapping your foot. "Cath... " could be the best song on the album. It introduces a pleasing guitar intro that remains dominant throughout the song. Definately a mixed feeling song; happy on one side, but when it gets to the chorus you get a saddened feeling for a few seconds until you are meeted with the same pleasing guitar riff you heard at the beginning of the song. Maybe even one of the best songs Death Cab for Cutie has created. "Talking Bird" is a simple song that lacks the instrumentation of songs previously heard on the albums. It leaves a feeling of emptyness and sadness. Some may think it's boring, while others might think it's a masterpiece. "You Can Do Better Than Me" is a song that you can definately hear some poppy 60's elements on. The vocals are high pitched and this is a short song that could get stuck in your head for hours. "Grapevine Fires" is my favorite song on the album. It is a sad song with a very interesting vocal approach, jumping note to note when it hits the chorus. It's not as experimental as the first few songs, but it stays in your mind and leaves a lasting impression. "Your New Twin Sized Bed" is similar to Grapevine Fires in that it isn't as experimental as the first few songs, but it has yet another solid guitar riff that keeps you interested in the song. It's happy on one side, but sad on the other like many songs on this album. "Long Division" is a fan favorite and a pretty catchy song. Odd note patterns and chords make this song an interesting listen. It crosses the line between the experimental side of this CD and the not so experimental side and includes elements of both. "Pity and Fear" is a different song with a somewhat native feel to it with the weird sound of the drums and interesting guitar riff. The chorus is the weak link of this song. "The Ice is Getting Thinner" is arguably the saddest song on the album. It features little more than the dark vocals of Ben Gibbard and haunting guitar parts. The chorus hits you like the ice falling beneath you and then begins a saddening guitar solo; which is something out of the ordinary for Death Cab.

Lyrics — 9
The lyrics are much more simple than from previous songs, but still remain a vital part of Death Cab for Cutie. With "Grapevine Fires" supposedly being written about the California wildfires in 2007, and "Bixby Canyon Bridge" with it's homages to Jack Kerouac, who is one of Gibbard's favorite authors. The lyrics succeed in the delivery of dark and emotional words. Ben Gibbard has gone up an octave, it seems on this album. He sings in a higher voice on quite a few songs which definately adds some interest to the songs.

Overall Impression — 9
Narrow Stairs is a big step up from Plans. Devout fans of Death Cab for Cutie may not find it to be their cup of tea. It's not the best album that Death Cab has done, but it is definately worth the time to listen to. "Grapevine Fires", "Cath... ", "Your New Twin Sized Bed", and "I Will Possess Your Heart" are songs that stand out the most to be. "Talking Bird", "Long Division", and "Pity and Fear" don't live up to the rest of the album, in my opinon. Overall this is an improved effort and a much more experimental one as well. It's a solid album and I would buy it again if lost.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Pkeyes73
    I agree with Lion, this album is below average, and as a big DCFC fan, I think they are falling deeper into another crap mainstream band. Where are all the original ideas??? There are 3 decent songs out of the lot. The lyrics are terrible and the songs are sooooo repetitive. Anyone who thinks this album is any good has not listened to albums that show their true potential IE: Transatlanticism or the photo album. This album absolutely sucks!!!
    twili47
    duke_lion wrote: 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.
    haha, right on about the coheed stuff.
    fitterhappier34
    I love this album, I love Transatlanticism, and I love Plans. I'm just recently getting into The Photo Album and We Have the Facts, but anyways. I LOVE DCFC.
    llama_guitarist
    xTheJoeex wrote: duke_lion wrote: 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. agreed completely. Transatlanticism is the best death cab album to date. :]
    Transatlanticism = best, for sure. But I must disagree, I think some songs on this album are memorable, most notably "Cath..." because I think it's a good song all around. Anyway, I enjoyed this album.
    xTheJoeex
    duke_lion wrote: 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.
    agreed completely. Transatlanticism is the best death cab album to date. :]
    sottpwn
    Users rating: 5.7 What the hell?! And shit like Trivium gets high 9's? Jesus.
    Nasal_Snack4
    azimuth457 wrote: 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.
    Weird, because I liked the album a lot the first time i heard it. It was original, though the songs could be a little less repetitive, But i liked the ideas they portrayed with their music. Yes, it was a little different than some of the other albums, but it was still a good album. Not my favorite, but still good.
    stringmagician
    Narrow Stairs is a tricky one. As a whole, the album is better than Plans, but the best songs from Plans are much better than any song on Narrow Stairs. Neither are as solid as The Photo Album or Transatlanticism, which are both albums from a completely different era of Death Cab, and can't really be compared.
    mab0009081
    boxcar_smasher wrote: 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.
    hmm ... i dont think it sounds much like those albums really. This one seems a lot darker than all the previous ones. My fav tracks are I will possess your heart , You can do better than me , and Your New Twin Size Bed . It is the sort of album that grows on you listen after listen I think too.
    TrippyLantern
    What's with all the Death Cab hate in the User Reviews. I wonder how many of those people who rated this album so low have actually heard it.
    CoHead
    This album is really good, but I still think Plans and Transatlanticism are better albums. Especially Plans... Narrow Stairs just doesn't seem to have the consistency. But maybe that is just because the last albums set the bar so high. Still, What Sarah Said can't be beat. Definitely my favorite.
    notoriousF A T
    Pkeyes73 wrote: I agree with Lion, this album is below average, and as a big DCFC fan, I think they are falling deeper into another crap mainstream band. Where are all the original ideas??? There are 3 decent songs out of the lot. The lyrics are terrible and the songs are sooooo repetitive. Anyone who thinks this album is any good has not listened to albums that show their true potential IE: Transatlanticism or the photo album. This album absolutely sucks!!!
    I've listened to every album quite a few times and i still love this record, i love all of em really. People dont have to have the same opinion as you so just get over it. You don't like it thats fine but other people still do.
    stumaster18
    mab0009081 wrote: jedichewy wrote: 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. I think that is any real Death Cab fans fav album lol It is for me anyways
    Stop being childish. Anyone can like whatever album they want, and still be a "real fan". I hate people like you. I could easily say to you, "I'm a real fan, because every album is my favourite. I can't pick just one." That is the truth, but I don't consider myself a "real fan". If you like the band and their music, you're a fan.
    mab0009081
    jedichewy wrote: 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.
    I think that is any real Death Cab fans fav album lol It is for me anyways
    danoshames
    this sounds kind of emo, but i think the main reason why this album wasn't as good as plans or tansatlanticism was because it's a happier tone. There's a lot of major chords consisted in these songs. It's not the same "somewhat sad" death cab we fell in love with in the transatlanticism era. None the less, this album is fantastic. It shows a different side of death cab, a more electric guitar based and happier sound. I love it. But it just will never be better than Plans or Transatlanticism.