Thursday, November 29, 2012

Artist of the Day: Death Cab for Cutie

At this point it sounds ridiculous to even call Death Cab for Cutie an indie band. Sure they have all the hallmarks of an indie group- obscure pop-culture reference for a name, lovelorn frontman, guitarist doubling as a producer- but it's as if they've transcended their own genre. They're simply too big to be looked at as part of a group. For a better part of a decade, Death Cab have been THE indie band, the one that will show up on every teen girl's mixtapes and the background of your favorite TV show just to remind you that even though they're often not on the radio, everybody spins their records.

Of course it's no accident Death Cab became so well known. Buoyed of course by moderate alt-rock hits "Soul Meets Body," "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," and 2010's "You Are a Tourist," the band released 4 albums before they struck gold with Transatlanticism. Previous efforts like The Photo Album and Songs About Airplanes certainly weren't short on quality, but it was Transatlanticism that really solidified Death Cab as the 'it' band. A thoroughly engaging listen back to front, Trans is the perfect medley of repetition, crescendos and softness with some of the most exciting moments in their history (the bridge on "We Looked Like Giants) and their most tantalizingly muted ones ("Lightness," the middle section of "Transatlanticism"). At times, it's both thrilling and frustrating but overall, it's one of the most pristine albums of the new millennium. As good as it is, its follow-up Plans nearly edges it for the title of best Death Cab release. With plenty of radio-friendly jams and fan favorites "Summer Skin" and "What Sarah Said," what Plans lacks in depth it makes up for in accessibility. 

Of course a great deal of the success has to do with primary writer and vocalist Ben Gibbard- a man of many talents who moonlights as the band's pianist and rhythm guitarist. His vocals are comforting in a strange way and the lyrics always seem to hit a soft spot, no matter what he's singing about. He is the engine that has kept the band rolling along steadily since their formation in 1997. Of course, guitarist and producer Chris Walla deserves some credit as well. His layering techniques are part of make Death Cab's sound so recognizable and when he chooses to bust out his best guitar riffs, he's one of the best in the indie scene. Unsung hero award goes to drummer Jason McGerr, whose prowess allows the band to write in a variety of styles and lets them transition flawlessly from song to song in a live setting. Their sound may seem generic today, but that's greatly due to the band building the genre into what it is today. 

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