Last Tuesday, Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie released Former Lives (Barsuk Records), his solo debut, and first solo work released since 2003’s Home Volume V LP that Gibbard shared with Andrew Kenney.
“These songs span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking,” Gibbard told NME. “They’re a side story, not a new chapter,” he said, referring to the fact that Death Cab is far from dead.
The album has received lukewarm to positive reviews, and multiple critics note the more folky and rock vibe of the album relative to DCourtesy of Rollingstone.com
eath Cab for Cutie, while also identifying Elliott Smith influences. The album’s downfall lies in its failure to majorly depart from Death Cab for Cutie. While, Former Lives has a bit more of an organic sound–and a more liberal use of guitar gain–than Death Cab, the foundation of the songs is essentially the same. (Critic Gabrielle Jensen even observes the similarity in the cover art of Former Lives to Death Cab album Narrow Stairs).
The similarities are most apparent in “Teardrop Windows” resemblance to “Bad Reputation” (originally by Freedy Johnston) that Death Cab for Cutie covers on Plans. “I’m Building a Fire” also sounds like a standard Death Cab acoustic ballad that could have appeared on any of their albums.
But Former Lives shouldn’t be dismissed for these reasons alone. Music should be allowed to stand alone, judged on the music itself rather than the name under which it is published. If you like Death Cab for Cutie, you would like Gibbard’s new album like you would like any album that a grown-up Death Cab for Cutie might put out.
Highlights from the album include “Bigger Than Love” featuring Aimee Mann, which for just a moment reminded me of Snow Patrol’s “Hand’s Open,” as well as “A Hard One to Know.” The least-Death Cab for Cutie award goes to “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” which uses brass and what seems to be an upright bass.
All in all, Former Lives, while a good release appeasing old fans, is unlikely to attract herds of new ones.
Tags: Ben Gibbard, death cab for cutie, former lives, Maggie Nelson