Death Cab for Cutie rocks out again

The indie band from your rebel teenage years makes another strong album

Photo courtesy of Ryan Kambich | The band best known for their hit “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” has produced albums over the last twenty years. Their newest body of work, Thank You for Today, stays true to their traditional style and sound. 

Heartbreak, yearning and just a touch of cautious optimism. Veteran indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie once again draw on those signature tropes for their ninth studio album, Thank You for Today, released on Aug. 17 after streaming in full on NPR Music’s website starting Aug. 13.

The record, their first since the departure of guitarist Chris Walla, introduces new faces while falling back to the composition that proved potent on their Grammy-nominated 2015 release Kintsugi. Thank You is the first Death Cab album to feature guitarist Dave Depper and keyboardist Zac Rae, who toured with the band in the wake of Walla’s departure.

Sonically, the record takes the reins where Kintsugi left off, deploying a similar emphasis on keyboards and electronic drums — part of a larger drift away from the raw guitar-driven indie rock that characterized the band’s earlier work. Meanwhile, the lyrics evolve directly from the narratives of Kintsugi, an album ruminating on alienated lovers, loss and the painful process of rebuilding (Kintsugi is the Japanese art of using gold to repair cracks in broken pottery).

On Thank You, the wounds are no longer fresh, but the hurt has calcified into an aching memorial to lost love. The album’s opening track, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” is a detuned reverie with an uptempo disco beat that obscures a desolate memory of bygone tenderness, a formulation likewise employed on the deadpan “You Moved Away.” Similarly, “Summer Years” reflects on the aftermath of two lives that have permanently diverged but are nonetheless brought tauntingly close together (“as we’re walking lines in parallel/that will never meet and it’s just as well”).

Thank You isn’t all painful memories, however. Some of its extended lamentation is rooted in the present. On “Gold Rush,” frontman Ben Gibbard bitterly condemns the rapid gentrification in his home city of Seattle driven by corporate giant Amazon over the last decade (“digging for gold in my neighborhood/for what they say is the greater good”).

The highlight of the album is undoubtedly “When We Drive,” a U2-esque electronic wave of sound that swells but never quite crests as Gibbard manages to find a glimmer of hope for love anew. The musical arrangement recalls some of the band’s earlier triumphs, namely “Passenger Seat” and “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

Throughout its 40 minutes, Thank You synthesizes old and new in a record that is at the same time deeply challenging and aesthetically rewarding. Songs such as “Near/Far” and “Northern Lights” effortlessly blend novel electronic overtures with the brooding guitar riffs the band is beloved for. If you’re new to Death Cab, I recommend you start elsewhere in their extensive catalogue that spans the last 20 years. But for longtime fans, the album is a natural step in the band’s evolution.

By: Ryan Kambich | Opinions & Editorials Editor