An Essential Guide to Death Cab for Cutie

An Essential Guide to Death Cab for Cutie

Major Label Period (2006 to current):

By 2007, Death Cab were promising "Can jams" modelled after the Krautrock band's lengthy, mesmerizing musical passages, and they delivered on "I Will Possess Your Heart," the first single from their forthcoming Plans follow-up, Narrow Stairs (2008). On this album and 2011's Codes and Keys, the band revelled in a sound they only hinted at on their major label debut, featuring a more audible, beefed-up rhythm section, more swinging rhythms in place of straight-time songwriting and Gibbard's newfound chest voice, sung with more powerful and in a lower register to complement the band's new, driving sound. On Codes and Keys, they'd incorporate more synths than ever into their sound.
In late 2014, band co-founder and longtime producer Chris Walla would quit the band, staying only to finish recording their 2015 album, Kintsugi.

Essential Album: Narrow Stairs (2008)

On Narrow Stairs, Death Cab would right the ship after the jumbled Plans, finding that a stronger sound could suit the band if it supported bigger, more emphatic songs. On the distortion-laden "Bixby Canyon Bridge" and propulsive "Long Division," they cemented a more muscular sound that, although it jarred with their earlier, subtler sound, suited them well.
Suddenly, Death Cab were playing high billings on festival lineups, and they had the songs to deliver sets worthy of the status.

What to Avoid:

Codes and Keys is a mostly skippable endeavour; though it's got some interesting dabbles with synthesizers ("Home Is a Fire" and "Unobstructed Views" are among the best), it feels like the work of dilettantes more than aficionados, and the songs lack both the charm of their early albums and the punch of their later ones.

Further Listening:

Record Store Day has led to some pretty great Death Cab releases during their Major Label Period. There are some really interesting reworks of classic Death Cab fare on the 2014 release recorded from their collaborative tour with Magik Magik Orchestra, reaching back to Something About Airplanes; and if you're into dance remixes, there will be something on the Keys and Codes Remix EP for you.