Death Cab for Cutie has provided the soundtrack to the lives of many a broody, flannel-encrusted, Infinite Jest-reading adolescent. But as its target demographic has gotten older, so has the band itself.
The group tackles the fleeting nature of our existence on Thank You for Today. Death Cab’s ninth studio album — and its first without longtime member Chris Walla — gives a new pitch to its traditional melancholia.
In his time with Death Cab, Walla was the veritable jack-of-all-trades, serving as everything from guitarist to producer to songwriter. Perhaps his departure is what made Thank You for Today a break from the band’s traditional sound. The production is mystical — almost submerged — yet the album’s lyrics are bolder than its predecessors Kintsugi and Codes and Keys.
The album kicks off with the one-two punch of “I Dreamt We Spoke Again” and “Summer Years,” with ethereal synths and softened guitars establishing a wistful tone. Frontman Ben Gibbard, ever the lyricist, compounds on the feeling, crooning on the latter track, “If the one you’re with was a compromise/ As we’re walking lines in parallel/ That will never meet and it’s just as well.”
From there, the album segues into a lament of the Amazon-ification of Gibbard’s hometown of Seattle in “Gold Rush,” as backing vocals hopelessly plead for the city to “stay the same.”
The next two tracks, “Your Hurricane” and “When We Drive,” aren’t much to write home about, with safe lyrics and almost-too-safe production. Gibbard’s wailing on “Autumn Love,” however, brings us back on track, and an assist from CHVRCHES frontwoman Lauren Mayberry on “Northern Lights” gives the song a goosebumps-inducing tone.
For as piercing as “Northern Lights” is, Thank You for Today‘s subsequent songs, “You Moved Away” and “Near/Far,” are a return to the underwater-esque vocals of the beginning of the album. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s Gibbard’s way of showing us that as his lyrics become gloomier, so does the sound.
On “60 & Punk,” the album’s closer, Gibbard mourns an unnamed, seemingly fallen hero, “a superhero growing bored/ with no one to save anymore.” While Gibbard has refused to disclose the subject of the track, Death Cab’s downward trajectory — it’s no longer on the soundtrack for Scrubs and The O.C. and every dramedy in between — makes it likely that “60 & Punk” is Gibbard looking in the mirror.
In typical Death Cab fashion, Thank You for Today often toes the lines between sorrowful and outright melodramatic. While it lands on the former more than the latter, the album’s brevity — it clocks in at a scant 38 minutes — makes the listener feel like it’s over before it even began. With so many lyrics about change, however, perhaps it’s Gibbard’s way of reckoning with how the passage of time has changed his band, his hometown, his heroes and even himself.