Barsuk; 2012 – October 15 2012
If you should take anything away from Ben Gibbard’s first solo record under his own name it’s that he is nothing without his band. In Death Cab For Cutie’s near 15 years of existence, they remain one of the few bands who are capable of ascendance over such a vast length of time. Initially labelled one of the first pop-emo bands to come out of the early 2000s, Death Cab For Cutie pushed their integrity to knew found heights with every forth coming record – Chris Walla reinventing his catchy guitar hooks, on countless songs over their seven albums. Or Nick Hammer’s stylistic bass lines laid down, because who can say no to “Summer Skin”. Or was it the inclusion of Jason McGerr in 2003 that established the bands best work to date on Transantlanticism. We all wish Death Cab For Cutie could have created another “Champagne From A Paper Cup” though their is significance in its stand alone beauty that maybe the track being one of a kind makes it all the more precious. But ultimately, whether you’re in the teenage-boy, “no one fucking loves me” nostalgia of “Title Track”, or later trying to understand love by comparing it to the glove box of your car, “Title & Registration”, or your love is so complicated that it carries on like “Long Division”, what Gibbard does is make stunning metaphorical music.
If Gibbard set himself the task of making you forget everything you knew about Death Cab For Cutie, Former Lives should bare no resemblance to the previous seventy-four tracks ever written and recorded. “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby” opens the debut rather interestingly. Former Lives is incredibly hard to listen to without thinking about Gibbard’s separation with Zooey Deschanel a few years back, which in conjunction made Codes And Keys more vindictive with every listen. “And know that I love you, My every thought is over you, As the clouds are beginning to break”. This little known thought in the back of your mind makes the record as much frustrating as it is curious, which is fundamental. You want to feel the pain of what Gibbard feels. You want him to sing one more time, “It was vile, And it was cheap, And you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me” as he did on “Tiny Vessels”. You want him to repeat, “I loved you Guenevere, I loved you Guenevere, I loved you” one hundred times, previously brought to light from “We Laugh Indoors”. But instead Former Lives is that little voice in your head saying “keep it together and make it appear that every is absolutely fine”. “Dream Song” kicks off the musical introduction suggesting what could be darker thought patterns in Gibbard’s mind over how he can’t sleep, however the music suggests otherwise. “He watches her laying there sound asleep, And wonders who’s chasing her through her dreams” is traditional, beautiful Gibbard imagery, that is backed by sound with no substance. Similarly on single “Teardrop Windows”, there are words that have no place in the context of the music. It feels more like Bob Dylan switched to electric guitar and brought a band along just piss everyone off.
“Bigger Than Love” is about as close to an album highlight as you’ll come, despite the feeling you get that the content wants to explode like “Home Is A Fire” before it. It never does. And “Lily” is just another way of saying “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” with no conviction. The record remains relatively flat for the remainder up until the closing sounds of “I’m Building A Fire” which closes loosely similar to Gibbard’s predecessors. Quiet, delicate, and food for thought. Because in hindsight we learn and create ourselves around previous experiences to grow as a person. But Former Lives leaves us feeling like we, or at least Gibbard, has learned nothing at all.