Customer Reviews: Former Lives
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on October 17, 2012
I came into Ben Gibbard's first solo album as a casual fan -- I mostly enjoyed his Postal Service project, and there are moments when Death Cab for Cutie can hit dazzling heights with their music. However, I've never really been captivated by his voice or lyrics. I went into FORMER LIVES with no real expectations -- I just had no idea what to expect: would it be electronic pop? Bare-bones singer-songwriter fare? Death-Cab-Style Power-pop? It turns out that the Death Cab for Cutie front-man's first solo album is a good effort, but it's missing the spark that his projects carry.

FORMER LIVES starts with the enigmatic "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby," a track just shy of a minute long that mostly consists of a capella performance. The next track though is a bit more representative of the album's sound: "Dream Song" is a mostly uptempo ballad that's interrupted with some dreamy textures periodically. Most of the songs on the album follow this sound: generally uptempo middle-of-the-road rock-n-roll that have occasional flashes of texturing or experimentation. The tunes here are very melodic, and it really feels like Gibbard spent a lot of time trying to craft these songs -- these songs' meat-and-potatoes approaches work well, but they might leave fans of Death Cab for Cutie's experimental side wanting. The lyrics here range from the good to the great -- Gibbard, going through a high-profile separation from a certain famous actress, seems to have plenty of things to say here (CODES AND KEYS seemed to lack any real emotional focal point that other albums carried). "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)" stands out like a sore-thumb with its mariachi horns -- the sound really doesn't work for the singer-songwriter no matter how subtle he tries to be with it. The album ends with "I'm Building a Fire," a bare acoustic track that provides an intimate feel. It concludes FORMER LIVES with the sensation that Gibbard is singing just in the next room, so in a way, it stops just as it starts, with Gibbard's vocals bearing the weight of the songs.

Ben Gibbard's FORMER LIVES is good, but it's not great. If anything, this record is an interesting example of Gibbard on his own, removed from the band that brought him fame. I would recommend it to fans of Death Cab for Cutie that can't wait for the band's next release. Listeners that are new to Gibbard would probably do well to start with an earlier Death Cab record (like TRANSATLANTICISM or PLANS) before jumping into this one. Give it a shot -- it's not a blind purchase, so I would recommend sampling a few songs first before making a decision. Essential tracks to sample or download: "Dream Song," "Lady Adelaide," and "Bigger than Love."
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on October 17, 2012
For a first foray into work fully by himself Ben really tossed out some good stuff. A lot of it are songs that fans of Death Cab have gotten to listen to for awhile now at live shows and such, but for the most part no one has heard these songs and they aren't the subject of much attention. They should be though. Ben (Benjamin? Really man, we all know its you) has gotten an opportunity that is long overdue. Between Death Cab for Cutie's discography, the album with Jay Ferrar as a soundtrack to the novel Big Sur (One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Music From Kerouac's Big Sur), and the ever iconic Give Up from the Postal Service (seriously, fans clamor for a second album from that duo like salivating animals) Ben has established himself as a simplistic yet personal lyricist and singer that reminds us all of the simpler aspects of life while the world flies by around you. Songs like "Passenger Seat" or the amazing "Brand New Colony" are amazing and this album has added a set of disjointed but excellent tracks to his set. In fact the only thing that makes this album anything less than perfect is that they are all odd and different experiments that don't always perfectly flow, but the songs hold up on their own for the most part.

1. Shepherd's Bush Lullaby - 6/10: This is a bit of an odd opener and my least favorite song on the album. Its ok, but it just layers Ben's voice on top of itself to create a bit of a an acapella group effect. Its a decent idea, but not as well executed as I'd hoped for. Lyrically its fun and enjoyable, its just not the most amazing song and shows us nothing that would have earned its attention on this album.

2. Dream Song - 8/10: Excellent song, would have been happy having this open the album. Its a floaty, fun little song that very much embodies its title. This is one of the songs most indicative of Death Cab, and will ease fans into Ben's solo work (though if you're a fan I'm guessing, like many I know, you already worship the ground he walks on and won't need to be eased into it).

3. Teardrop Windows - 8/10: Doesn't get more emo than this lyrically. A song about a man alone, crying out his window, feeling blue, its all here in Ben's first single from the album. Its still an excellent track, but it can feel a little sad. What helps are the instrumentals and tone, which are lighthearted and fun to contrast the subject material. It is the first of his solo songs to not have that 'Death Cab' feel to it in awhile and its honestly kind of refreshing.

4. Bigger than Love - 7/10: Another good song, but I was surprised when I first listened. Aimee Mann makes an appearance on this one and she helps it stand out, but it doesn't make it one of the better tracks on the album. Instead it kind of makes it awkward and adds the the feeling of disjointed. Now having said that it is an adorable little duet with one of independent music's most beloved little stars and it makes for a wonderful little love track. A lot of little hipster couples are going to be playing this together and listening to it in coffee shops with one earbud apiece. Get used to this one, its going to be around awhile.

5. Lily - 7/10: Basically a big list of all the things Lily is to him. Its a decent song, but I found nothing special in it. Keeps with the idea of the album, some lyrical and instrumental experimentation outside of his basic comfort zone.

6. Something's Rattling - 8/10: Another pleasant little song, lyrically about how pleasant the summer air is making him. There are hints of country in here, but nothing that comes to fruition (that comes later on the album). Another one that doesn't stand way out, just hangs in there.

7. Duncan, Where Have You Gone? - 9/10: This is where the album truly begins to take off. This is a sad little song about a man with a broken heart, and a friend trying to send him comfort. I thought that this was where Ben began to hit his stride musically and you can really tell more of a coherency from here on. The music is just fantastic, really sets a tone and a mood with the lyrics.

8. Oh, Woe - 10/10: I love this song more than any other on the album. Its perfect. Fun lyrics, exciting presentation, this is pure Ben and you can hear it in the music. A fusion of his Postal Service vocal leanings, his Death Cab b-side instrumentals (Little Bribes anyone?) and it all mixes for just a powerful performance.

9. A Hard One to Know - 9/10: Another song that very much reminds you of how Ben Gibbard can put normality in a personal and frustrating tone, this song is about a woman who is very inconsistent and sends mixed messages (probably talking about Zoey Deschanel on this one...). Its similar to Oh, Woe in terms of music and sound and I love it.

10. Lady Adelaide - 9/10: Another fun song, but with a bit more heavy of a tone. A poor woman named Adelaide that never got to hear she was loved from anyone. Its a really sad song, but again another odd performance from Ben that winds up being one of his best songs outside of Death Cab. Really odd overlay in the background that I wasn't ready for, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The hover reminds me a lot of the same background sound in Teardrop Windows.

11. Broken Yolk in Western Sky - 8/10: Just...what the heck? A very...very twangy country song but with Ben's normal vocals soaring over it, this is without a doubt the oddest piece put forth on the album. Its got a floating, high rising sound to it that evokes the feel of sitting outside your house cooking sausage and eggs for breakfast before you head out to cut down trees for the lumber yard or to wrangle cattle. Just an odd piece that you get, and even though I despise country music it really does work as a song.

12. I'm Building a Fire - 10/10: An acoustic closing track that is basically about Ben dying while his loved one watches. He builds her a fire and then lays down to die while she watches him pass, but at least she's comfortably warm while he does. Very sad song but excellent album closer.

Overall a disjointed but incredible set of songs from Mr. Gibbard. I'm a fanboy on this guy, so I completely dig what he's doing with the music. I wouldn't mind him having another foray into the solo realm but since he says he's recording with Death Cab again it could be awhile. This is a must buy for any fan of his work with other groups or those just interested in hearing a set of independent releases from a hipster king. You'll like this, I promise you.
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on October 16, 2012
I listened to this album on Youtube before it came out and have listened to it several times since I received it and I think it's great. I'm a long time fan of all of Gibbard's projects (Death cab, Postal Service, All-time Quarterback) and this album certainly lived up to what I have come to expect from him. It's a fairly mellow album, certainly not over-produced (according to the album insert, the first song was recorded on an iPhone- granted it's A Capella). Fan's of Death Cab for Cutie will NOT be disappointed.
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on January 25, 2013
I didn't realize he was making a solo album until I saw the iTunes "Pick of the Week" card with his single "Teardrop Windows". He also did a "Tiny Desk Concert" with NPR which I caught some of. I finally bought this album, and was definitely not disappointed.

Overall, the theme of the album is classic Gibbard, with songs about love and loss written in his characteristically poetic manner. However, the instrumentals struck me as much more catchy and upbeat than the Death Cab for Cutie stuff--a little more indie pop and less abstract. I actually like that a lot.

Some albums are kind of "difficult" to listen to in full--there's a few great songs and the rest never really captures my attention. This is most assuredly not one of those albums. Every song has something catchy about it that makes it worth the listen. I get the feeling that this is a carefully curated album of the best of the unused songs he's written over the years.

Of course there's always a few favorites. "Teardrop Windows" was a good choice of single as it clearly draws a line between the Death Cab sound and the Benjamin Gibbard sound. There's parts of it that echo "Crooked Teeth" with it's melodic guitar riffs and upbeat drum tempo, but it also has an elegant simplicity that's uniquely his. "Dream Song" is another standout with it's piano solo, and "You're A Hard One to Know" deserves an honorable mention for it's compellingly honest lyrics. There's a lot of people who would speculate that the latter was written about his recent divorce. Not sure about that, but it does make for a great song.

Overall, this was a very impressive album. I wouldn't call it a departure from the expected Death Cab for Cutie fare, but it does have a lot of musicality that I wouldn't have expected. Great solo album, and I hope there will be more to come in the future.
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on March 11, 2013
People who expect a Deathcab for Cutie (transatlanticism era) sound just because he is divorced will be let down. This is a growth album that has his style and lyrical skill just in a new and playful way. Their are sad tracks that have a classic Gibbs feel, some that sound like they could Fit into Codes and Keys and some that are a whole new sound. For people who are fans of Ben Gibbard will love it. People who are old school Death Cabbies will have issues, but it is a solid album and a nice step for the great artist Ben Gibbard is.
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on October 17, 2012
This is a great first solo album by Death Cab for Cutie's front man. I'm a big Death Cab fan and I feel that this album stands up well against the other CDs that I have come to love from that band, as well as the Postal Service project. The lyrics and music have the same characteristic poignant/sweet/melancholy tone that we have come to expect from this talented musician. There's even a duet with Aimee Mann, another favorite artist of mine, and the two sound great together. I strongly feel that most Death Cab fans will enjoy this album. The only downside I would say is that it's a little short in length (I like when albums are at least 45 minutes long - that way I feel like I'm getting my money's worth) but clocking in at about 37 minutes or so this album feels like a polished little gem, and it's worth every penny.
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on April 7, 2013
This is an amazing album. If you are a fan of the stuff that Ben Gibbard does in his other projects this is an excellent edition to collection. This album contains a wide variety of music styles that Ben has written over the years. A must have for Gibbard fans.!!!
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on July 26, 2013
Bought it after catching Ben Gibbard and Amiee Mann performing "Bigger than Love" on Stephen Colbert. Because of the slicker production and alt-rock groove of that song I was expecting more of the same but the majority of this album has a simpler softer alt sound- perhaps with a slight folk tinge. I use the term "folk" with trepidation as it's a description that usually causes apprehension (I'm more of a folk traditionalist- give me the Guthrie's over Di Franco).

Whatever the classification, it makes for an enchanting album of tunes that have really grown on me and I'm happy to have bought it. Although the lyrics all have depth it allows me to drift and just be happy singing along. There's not a single "skip over" tune.

My favorite is probably "Teardrop Windows". It took me several times listening to figure out the song was about a building rather than a person which intrigued me enough to research it- and made me love the song even more.
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on January 26, 2016
I like Ben Gibbard a lot. I really enjoy this album. Not everyone likes Ben Gibbard. His voice is very polarizing, it seems to either attract or repel listeners. I love his voice and northwestern dialect.
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on November 16, 2014
I really enjoyed this album. If you are thinking of buying it just because you like Death Cab, don't do it. It has nothing to do with any of their records- maybe a little Codes and Keys vibe to it, but that's it.
However, I found it to be one of Gibbard's best albums, if not 'the' best. There are a couple of amazing songs- "Broken Yolk in Western Sky", "Lady Adelaide", or "Teardrop Window". It includes collaborations with a few other artists, including ex-wife Zooey Deschanel in "Something's Rattling", a mariachi-like song that will bring a smile to your face.
Well done, Ben.
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