Death Cab for Cutie Keep It Familiar on "Thank You for Today" (Review)
At this point, it seems that Death Cab For Cutie knows exactly what their fanbase wants. Though there has definitely been experimentation in the 21 years that the band has been together, Death Cab has a tried and true formula. That formula usually means reverb-heavy guitar riffs, buoyant basslines, woeful piano accompaniments and singer Ben Gibbard's melancholy, but not too melancholy, vocals. In most ways, Thank You For Today, Death Cab's follow up to 2016's Kintsugi, is more of that same formula fans are used to.
"I Dreamt We Spoke Again," the album's opener, leads in with a slightly warped piano track, before Gibbard jumps in with his signature crooning, singing the title's name. There isn't much to this song, either in structure or actual instrumentals, but it manages to be successful nonetheless. The simple guitar riff that periodically recurs compliments the lyrics well, and the chiming in of the harmonies really jumpstarts the chorus, as if this is the moment the album really begins. Death Cab doesn't ramp up the energy much from there, instead segueing into "Summer Years," a song downbeat in lyrics but soothing in execution. While the drumbeat keeps the pace moving quicker than the opener, Gibbard is just as gloomy, pining for years gone by. While "Summer Years" wouldn't be out of place on Transatlanticism, "Gold Rush" surely would be. Backtracked by an incredibly cheesy chant that sounds like it would be in the back of a song made for a Disney animated movie, "Gold Rush" sounds like it was made specifically to be the album's single. It's a shame the execution is so off, because the topic of the track is actually interesting—that being the gentrification of neighborhoods and how it takes away a place's character.
"Your Hurricane" shares a melody similar to that of Kintsugi's "You've Haunted Me All My Life," making it feel almost like a sequel to that song. It also contains some of Gibbard's worst lyrics ever ("You used to be such a delicate kid / a lonely fish in a sea full of squid" is a standout), which robs it of some of its impact. "When We Drive," picks up the slack however, creating a more intimate tone by removing any of the reverb or effects from Gibbard's voice. "When We Drive" continues the stripped down and slowed down motif established in the first two tracks, and feels as though it could have been written for a close friend of his, making it feel especially raw. "Autumn Love," one of the album's highlights, combines acoustic guitar with echo-y electric leads to create a bittersweet melody. Ignoring Gibbard's fixation on seasons on this record, "Autumn Love"s chorus of escalating oh oh oh's combined with Gibbard's damning and honest lyrics is exactly the kind of songwriting that allowed Death Cab for Cutie to gain prominence, making for an excellent track.
Its odd for the B-Side of an album to continue this strongly, but "Northern Lights" keeps it going, with Gibbard hitting falsetto high notes along with a simple but resonant guitar riff and distinct piano track. Drummer Jason McGerr particularly gives the song a sense of somber momentum through his use of hi-hat. "You Moved Away" unfortunately then plays like a less successful version of "When We Drive" in that it attempts to be heartfelt and personal, but is pulled down by awkwardly paced lyrics. That being said, the discordant backtrack does make it more interesting, adding an eerie effect to the proceedings. "Near/Far" follows, with an uptempo instrumental arrangement that could be part of an 80's pop song if not for Gibbard's pensive vocals. The combination is intriguing and catchy, making me wonder what it would be like to hear more music from them in this direction. Predictably, Death Cab ends on a downhearted ballad. "60 & Punk" eulogizes the career of a punk rock idol, whomever it may be, "a superhero growing old with no-one to save anymore." Effective, albeit dreary, "60 & Punk" leaves Thank You for Today in a similar place to where it started - melancholy, catchy and in mourning of past relationships.
While not ground-breaking, Death Cab For Cutie succeeds with Thank You For Today mostly in the places where it focuses on what has worked in the past. While some songs don't connect in the way that they were meant to, there is enough on here to recommend it to die-hard fans and avid consumers of indie rock.