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Narrow Stairs

May 9, 2008 | Format: MP3

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By Cale E. Reneau on May 13, 2008
Format: Audio CD
When Death Cab for Cutie signed to Atlantic Records a few years back, many people expected the worse. In the indie music world, where signing to a major record label is often met with cries of "selling out" and steadfast declarations of "their old stuff was better," Death Cab's transition was proof that a major record deal doesn't alway signal the end of a band's better days. Plans wound up being a beautiful album; not near as exciting or breathtaking as its predecessor, but still drenched in Ben Gibbard's unparalleled lyricism and Chris Walla's flawless production. It was an album that found the band's rough edges smoothed out - their more hopeful moments set aside to make way for those of self-doubt and longing.

Narrow Stairs takes the opposite approach. Walla is once again behind the production, but the album has a much more natural quality to it (a feature that not only contrasts Plans, but Walla's own solo album and his work with The Decemberists and Tegan and Sara). As such, it feels more like the band's earlier work: unrestrained and unrefined, free of nit-picking and studio perfectionism. The raw, guitar distortion of album-opener, "Bixby Canyon Bridge," would never exist on an album like Plans, and it's refreshing to hear the band breaking free from the self-imposed restrictions of their previous record.

Likewise, the album's first single "I Will Possess Your Heart" is well over 8 minutes long, something that I can't imagine Atlantic Records smiling on, especially being a single.
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Format: Audio CD
After their big-label debut "Plans" in 2005, DCFC took to the streets and toured relentessly. This in turn lead to a longer than usual period in between new studio recording. Now, 3 years later, comes the much anticipated 6th studio albums from these guys.

"Narrow Stairs" (11 tracks, 45 min.) starts off with the best 1-2 punch ever: an epic opener "Bigxby Canyon Bridge", followed by an even stronger 8+ min. brooding "I Will Posess Your Heart" (1st radio single). Wow... these 15 min. of music alone are worth buying the album for. Smartly Ben Gibbard and the guys take a (musically) lighter turn after that, with tracks like "No Sunlight", "Your New Twin Sized Bed" and "You Can Do Better Than Me" (even though neither of them is a 'light' song lyrically...). Other highlights for me include "Grapevine Fires" (with great underlying keyboards) and the somber closer "The Ice Is Getting Thinner". But honestly, there isn't a single weak track as such on here. The songs are sequenced perfectly and it all flows from one to the next. Chris Walla's production is perfectly in tune with Ben Gibbard's slightly darker than usual songs. A terrific album all around (and right up there with 2003's "Transatlanticism", in my opinion).

I had seen DCFC in concert before, but when I saw them at Coachella in late April, the entire band played with a vigor and passion I hadn't seen before. They played quite a few of the new songs (including "I Will Possess Your Heart", which I'm guessing is Nick's (the bass player) favorite new song, but also "Grapevine Fires"), and also bringing a couple of classics such as "Sound of Settling". In all DCFC's set was one of the more memorable of the entire Coachella festival for me. Can't wait to see them again in concert. Meanwhile "Narrow Stairs" is highly recommended!
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Format: Audio CD
After the first time thru I would have rated this album just three stars, but it's kinda growing on me. I like the apt and easy song lyrics. I like various small and subtle production elements, such as the way the lead guitar moves in and around the vocals, sometimes joining, on tunes like "Pity and Fear." And there are various other things on Stairs I appreciate. There's no magnificent tragedy on the new CD to rival "Transatlanticism," but then what ever could? Stairs does have the similarly epic (and slow-building) "I Will Possess Your Heart," but it's quietly optimistic where "Trans..." is all heartbreak and sorrow. For those who felt let down after their first listen, give the disc another try and see what you think. Oh, and by the way, the CD booklet is another minor but cool work of art, something the download-only folks will miss I guess.
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Format: Audio CD
This is a great album. I listened to this album endlessly for weeks after it came out. Before Narrow Stairs, my favorite Death Cab album was Transatlanticism, and I kept going back and forth between Transatlantacism and Narrow Stairs as being my favorite dcfc album. After the dust has settled and some time has passed, I'm still very fond of the cold, wintry sound of Transatlantacism, but I think Narrow Stairs is by far my favorite Death Cab album, and I've been listening to them, and have been a loyal fan, for seven years now. Have Narrow Stairs on both CD and vinyl, and I feel compelled to tell everyone reading this little tidbit that this album sounds so much better on vinyl... My other half and I are taking a road trip from Phoenix to Los Angeles to San Francisco this summer. I'm going to listen to Bixby Canyon Bridge just before I cross the actual bridge myself. I'm going to pull the car over, get out, walk down the path, and follow the steps that Ben took. Hopefully I can reach the water. We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll find some bit of understanding about life, maybe not. But it will be fun to try it out, nevertheless. I'll be reading Henry Miller's Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch before I make the trip, so between Death Cab and Henry, it should be a real hoot. Long Division is one of many favorites on this album, I turn it up way too loud every time the song comes on, much to my other half's chagrin! Hopefully Ben and the rest of the band will come out with another kicker real soon... I hope that Ben and Zooey are happy, but I'm also slightly worried that Ben's newfound happiness will change the doom and gloom we've all come to know and love Death Cab for into songs about puppy dogs and rainbows... lets hope not! Peace to all Death Cab fans, and god bless this beautiful group of guys for making such essential, kickass music.
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