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.