Narrow Stairs Review

artist: Death Cab for Cutie date: 05/24/2008 category: compact discs
Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Release Date: May 13, 2008
Label: Atlantic/WEA
Genres: Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Alternative Pop/ Rock
Number Of Tracks: 11
After spending the better part of a decade in the musical minor leagues, Death Cab for Cutie went pro with 2005's Plans, a record whose optimism and Technicolor sound gave the band enough leverage to finally enter the mainstream.
 Sound: 9
 Lyrics: 9.3
 Overall Impression: 9
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reviews (3) 40 comments vote for this album:
overall: 9.3
Narrow Stairs Featured review by: UG Team, on may 24, 2008
3 of 3 people found this review helpful

Sound: 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. // 9

Lyrics: 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. // 10

Overall Impression: 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. // 9

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overall: 9
Narrow Stairs Reviewed by: Tumble-weed, on may 16, 2008
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Sound: When Death Cab For Cutie came out with "Transatlanticism", they had officially become a big name in the indie world of music. After signing with Atlantic, they released "Plans", a more straightforward effort that left some fans disappointed (including me). However, 3 years later, Death Cab have returned with their follow-up "Narrow Stairs", a departure from the traditional love songs of Ben Gibbard. While not a HUGE change in style, it is noticeably different than it's predecessors and it feels more focused. The band seems to have found a sound that really suits them. There is a darker tone as opposed to "Plans" and overall, the songs seem more thought out. // 9

Lyrics: As I said before, gone are most of the traditional love songs and in are more harrowing and darker themed songs. The lyrics overall have been improved since their last release and Gibbard's new style is a welcome addition to their sound. It might take a few listens to really get into the characters he conjures up. Also, Gibbard's vocals, while very similar to the last 2 albums, have improved yet again. This time, he utilizes a higher pitch more often in songs like "You Can Do Better Than Me". Overall, Death Cab have improved since Plans lyrically and have pretty much tied Transatlanticism in this spot. // 9

Overall Impression: If you loved their last two albums or even their older albums like "The Photo Album", you'll enjoy this album. It'll take a few listens to truly appreciate this album but it's definitively worth the time spent. Songs like "Cath... ", the new single "I Will Possess Your Heart", "Your New Twin Sized Bed" and "Long Division" will stay with you long after you've listened to the album. If this album were stolen, I'd definitely go out and buy another copy. Overall, a much better album than Plans and by far the band's most experimental effort yet, which isn't a bad thing at all. // 9

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overall: 9
Narrow Stairs Reviewed by: bradulator, on june 05, 2008
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Sound: "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. // 9

Lyrics: 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. // 9

Overall Impression: 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. // 9

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