Saturday, May 31, 2008

Today was a great day

I might look emo, but I promise I was actually having a really good time! haha

Jordan was wake surfing behind the boat

Mom and Brocky were having a grand old time watching Jordan. Brock kept getting really worried when Jordan would fall in

Tod and the rest of us were pretty impressed by the stellar wakeboarder who went by. If only we all had such skillz

I'm so glad it's finally warming up. And I'm very grateful for where we live. I love it so much here!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

First Name Last Name, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha

I feel new today.

Thank you Jack Kerouac.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Comprehensive Review of Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs

Overall, this album has a phenomenal flow about it. The transitions work together, it even has the feel of the musical version of a narrative arc. Rather than slowing down and getting boring near the end like a lot of major releases are wont to do, it seems to build, climax, and eventually resolve. It’s only slight dips or weak moments seem to be somewhere between Cath… and You Can Do Better Than Me. Specifically, Talking Bird. It’s alright, but that’s it. Just alright.

The lyrics to Talking Bird are about on par with the rest of the album though, in that they’re much easier to understand than past albums. I find this a little disappointing. One of the thrills of listening to past Death Cab albums was interpreting the sometimes enigmatic lyrics. The lyrics in Narrow Stairs are generally straightforward and easily interpreted. This takes a little of the sparkle off this album for me. Luckily, what it lacks in deeper meaning, it seems to make up for in melody (though this statement generally excludes Talking Bird, as the melody is, as I said before, just alright).

Starting the album with Bixby Canyon Bridge was a great way to grab attention. It pulled me in almost instantaneously and brought on that euphoria Death Cab has provided for me upon first listen in the past. Grinning ear to ear, I played it out. My initial reactions to the end of this song were mixed. The fuzzy distortion seemed a little clichéd and trite at first. I read that they were really shooting for a shoegazer feel on this album, and this felt like a cop out to make that true since the only other truly shoegazer/post-rock feeling song is I Will Possess Your Heart. However, the end has grown on me over time. It could be that I’m just used to it now, but I think mostly it’s because clichéd or not, it fits just right between these first two tracks.

The instrumental lead into I Will Possess Your Heart is perhaps the most vivid and well-done “shoegazer” aspect of this album. It is well varied and the swelling layers are perfect. Nick Harmer’s bass line keeps movement and time while the sparse piano chords, reverberating guitar strums, and Ben’s background vocals add fullness. The song builds and builds almost to the breaking point, and then suddenly there’s Ben’s soft yet intense voice as the music drops out - all I can do is grin and wait for my goosebumps to pass - the timing, tone and feel are in perfect sync. The lyrics might be the crooner of a rejected stalker, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the lush layering of this beautiful song.

Nick Harmer’s moving bass lines seem to be the driving force in the first half of this album as No Sunlight comes into view. The lyrics to this song are… perhaps a little trite. Who doesn’t lose their optimism as they grow older? This might make this song more relatable to some, but personally I see it as so generic that it’s not worth taking the time to relate to on anything other than a superficial level. So I enjoy the music, dance a little, sing along to the repetitive lyrics, and move on, no worse for wear.

Cath… on the other hand has opposite lyrical issue. Instead of generic, these lyrics are very specific. Generally when Gibbard writes specific lyrics, they’re so specific that a lot of personal interpretation is required to glean some meaning out of the song. That or the background story has to be known. Take, for instance, basically anything off of Something About Airplanes, or, for something more recent, Death of an Interior Decorator off of Transatlanticism. Without background stories, access to meaning within these songs have to come from within. Cath… however, sounds like a quick story about someone like Catherine Zeta Jones or any other starlet marrying someone older and a little skeazy for money. I don’t relate to that. And I don’t think anyone who is marrying for anything other than love, would be listening to the likes of Death Cab. Or if they are, they definitely aren’t connecting to any of their past lyrics or melodies. As for the melody in this song, it does sound something slightly more akin to Photo Album but at the same time it evokes the Get Up Kids circa Guilt Show for me. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad or even “so-so” song, it’s just a matter of individual preferences. This song sort of goes into the same category as No Sunlight for me; I enjoy it as it passes, because it is a really nice pop song, but it’s not something I skip back to or put on repeat.

We already know how I feel about Talking Bird, so I’ll move onto You Can Do Better Than Me. Now, I’m going to be cliché here and just say it now: I love this song. Probably in the same way everyone and their pet hamsters love I Will Follow You Into The Dark. For me, it hearkens back to the days of Technicolor Girls. It’s wonderfully bitter sweet and the lo-fi organ just works with the big timpani sounding drums and vibrating snare. It’s a purely enjoyable one minute, fifty-nine seconds. The lyrics are again straight forward, but they fit well with the straightforward feel of the instruments.

And so we come to Grapevine Fires. There are a lot of things I love about this song. There is also one glaring thing I, for some inexplicable reason, can’t stand: that it’s about the 2007 California Wild Fires. Perhaps it’s that I heard about them for so long last fall, or maybe it’s that the colors evoked from this song in my mind are automatically ashy and smoke filled, that I find the relation to that event in this song a little annoying. But, that aside, the lyrics to this song are more akin to Transatlanticism. They are specific but there is a deeper meaning there for the individual listener to glean. And the feel of this song is lovely - it’s soft and flowing the way Transatlanticism and the better parts of Plans were. Even with my hang-ups about the wild fires, I can’t help but find this song lovely.

You’re New Twin Sized Bed is… aaah, a breath of fresh air. It’s peppy, lush, flowing, bright, and bitter sweet in the way only Ben Gibbard can pull off. The lyrics are cute and poignant and again, there’s just enough specificity to pull the listener in, yet enough generality to force the listener to relate in their own personal way. It’s classic Death Cab in all the right ways.

Now we have Long Division. There is something about this song that just sucks me in. I listen to You Can Do Better Than Me up through this song on repeat. It’s a perfect little stretch. This is where the album seems to peak, where it’s at it’s best. Long Division is full and poppy and sure, repetitive, but the story behind the lyrics is just thoroughly interesting. I think this is because I love a good look into the why’s of what people do. And this guy was obviously left behind by cheaters in the past, so he decided to stop being the leavee and be the leaver instead. If I were him, I’d probably want to be something other than the person in the triangle who gets left behind as well. But even without understanding the lyrics, Long Division seems like the type of song to be utterly enjoyable to the masses in the same vein as The Sound of Settling. And I’m ok with that.

Making the transition between climax and resolution in this album is Pity and Fear. I find the Indian music in Pity and Fear pretty cliché. As it came on, I felt like I was turning on a Sting album. Or maybe a Britney Spears album. Basically it just felt like they were trying really hard to be “new” and “different” but in a way that’s already been done – by John Lennon, Sting, Britney, almost every teeny bopper, on down. Despite this though, the song isn’t bad. The lyrics sum up the theme of the album – settling for less than we deserve and becoming someone we never thought we’d be – and as the song grows, the Indian beats become less distracting. Simply, it works as the peak and beginning of the downward slope in the album’s narrative arc.

The full resolution comes with The Ice Is Getting Thinner. It’s pretty in ways. It feels overly thoughtful and like another hack at Steadier Footing, Lack of Color or I Will Follow You Into The Dark. It’s shooting for simplicity, but misses and at times hits boring instead. The lyrics are highly relatable and the melody would be good to fall asleep to. If one is looking for depression, this song could fill that need. As a stand-alone song, it’s lackluster. But within the larger picture, works well as a resolution, as a sort of end of one cycle and entrance into the next. With this album on repeat, “Ice” continues the flow back into Bixby Canyon Bridge. In that way, this song is a fitting last track for Narrow Stairs.

I’ve read a few times that Ben wanted to write more straightforward lyrics. If that’s true, he succeeded, but perhaps not to his benefit. One of the biggest charms to Death Cab for Cutie has, for me at least, always been their simple, thoughtful, many-leveled lyrics. Puzzling out the meanings always made the songs more personal to me. The playfulness of words and interesting story lines aren’t quite up to par with their pre-Plans albums, but this album is at least much more enjoyable and less macabre than their last full-length. And I daresay their newly acquired fans will find it more than acceptable. Overall it’s enjoyable, has catchy melodies and flows like the Amazon. I know it’ll be on repeat in my cd player for quite some time.