To spend 21 years as a band, releasing nine albums over that duration, is some feat for an indie rock band in the modern era, yet ‘Thank You For Today’ in many ways feels like the follow up record to the second coming for Death Cab for Cutie.
The Seattle-based band have come a long way since they shuffled onto the scene as a band of unlikely shaggy haired kids armed with a deft collection of intricately woven pop songs. Despite having ventured through a relentless tide of pop culture obsession, major label disputes and a high-profile celebrity breakup, Ben Gibbard and co. have weathered through and come out the other side with a Grammy nomination to boot for 2015’s ‘Kintsugi’. Albeit having parted ways with guitarist/ producer Chris Walla, the man with the ear for an emotive hook, and undoubtedly the driving force in the shadows whilst Gibbard reived much of the critical acclaim as the wordsmith at the forefront.
The recruitment of previous touring members Dave Depper (Menomena, Fruit Bats) and Zac Rae (My Brightest Diamond, Fiona Apple), two guitarist/keyboardists has seen the band continue their slide towards the realms of the electronic, a mantra that was set out on ‘Kintsugi’. Whilst this on paper this appears a sound creative decision and achievable attempt to reflect the band’s ability to adapt and evolve in the post-Walla Death Cab era, the heavy-handed dousing of a glossy sheen across ‘Thank You For Today’ by producer Rich Costley (Fiona Apple, Franz Ferdinand, Muse) does at times run the risk of sanitising the album and detracting from the record’s beating heart. Running totally at odds with the rough around the edges aesthetic style that helped break the band into the public consciousness on the iconic ‘Transatlanticism’.
A strong start sees a flurry of immersive, electronically flecked tracks that neatly balance Gibbard’s fragile vocal delivery. The sliding bass and twinkling synths of opener ‘I Dreamt So Long’ immediately establish the trademark themes of melancholy and heartbreak complete with an echoing guitar line reminiscent of The Cure, whilst the restless drumbeat of ‘Summer Years’ acts as an indicator of the songwriter’s impatient thoughts as he juxtaposes the usual nostalgia associated with summers gone by with longing thoughts of a lost lover whose lives run parallel. Early single ‘Gold Rush’ strikes a similarly reflective tone as Gibbard laments the changing face of his home city Seattle to a Beck-like groove of stomping neo- country. “All our ghosts get swept away, it didn’t use to be this way.”
The aforementioned radio-friendly sanitised production rears its head most prominently on the emotionally vacant ‘We Drive’, whilst the pop meter is dialled up with the aide of an ‘ohh ohh’ chorus and a series of restrained guitar hooks on ‘Autumn Love’. A track which sees Gibbard trade rather clunky lines such as, ‘The sign of love is not enough’, rather uncharacteristic of such a vivid storyteller, with such emotionally stunted filler causing one to question as to whether this is a songwriter who has progressed in maturity since the mid 00s.
Gibbard’s lyricism at times does fall flat. ‘Your Hurricane’ features a string of half-baked metaphors to describe his troubled relationship including, "A lonely fish in a sea full of squid" and "I won’t be the debris in your hurricane". Whilst beneath the murmuring electronica of ‘You Moved away’, Gibbard quite literally details how his lover got her “security deposit back” and “closed your account at the bank, checked your tyres and filled the tank.”
After a mid-section slump, the record ends on its strongest moment. ‘60 & Punk’ packs the much needed emotional punch over a despondent piano riff as Gibbard grapples with ageing and letting go of the past, whilst pondering “were you happier when you were poor?.” A track with a subtle tone that perfectly suits the natural sense of melancholia in Gibbard’s vocals and harks back to a Death Cab for Cutie of old.
‘Thank You For Today’ straddles a ground somewhere between the slick approach of later Death Cab and the type of embrace of synths and electronics championed by Gibbard’s other band The Postal Service. Whilst adhering to a pretty well-worn formula with the usual rousing emotion ebbs and flows, Gibbard’s ability to paint such vivid imagery with his carefully considered approach to lyricism does warrant revisiting, despite some moments proving patchy than others. ‘Thank You For Today’ is an insular record, one that whispers its emotions atop a layer of polished production. Dig deep enough however and you’ll still find that same introspective band of raconteurs, and going by the album’s title they’re still happy to be crafting songs as Death Cab for Cutie some 21 years on.
Words: Rory Marcham
- - -
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.