Dated: March 14, 2015
Note: This was an old article that I posted on a website that does not exist anymore, so to update with the times I made a few changes.
The alternative rock musical artist that grew up in Seattle has become the forefront of the Indie Rock scene. This coffeehouse band has evolved and altered their sound after nearly two decades. Another name they go by is Death Cab for Cutie. DCFC have found a way within their nine studio album discography to never lose their personal or emotional voice. With 48 Singles and Extended Plays, two compilations, three video albums and several other appearances, DCFC is an unstoppable force that preach the ups-and-downs of life. Listeners feel more in tune with their soul when they venture inside the minds of Ben Gibbard (Lead Vocalist and Guitarist), Nick Harmer (Bass), and Jason McGerr (Drummer). They recently lost Lead Guitarist Chris Walla and had two former drummers, Nathan Good and Michael Schorr that left early in their career. According to Discogs.com, DCFC recently gained two new members: Dave Depper and Zac Rae. In honor of their newer albums, Thank You for Today and Kintsugi, let’s countdown the top ten best Death Cab for Cutie songs from, You Can Play These Chords With Songs (1997) to Codes and Keys (2011).
To begin this list, Number Ten is “Soul Meets Body,” from Plans (2005). “Soul Meets Body,” is one of the catchiest and “feel good” songs of DCFC’s library. It opens up in a wind chime of jingles. There are acoustic guitars, harmonizing, and steady drum beats. The instruments collide together like a whirlwind. The lyrics describe a weary traveler. “Soul Meets Body,” is playful, warm, and nostalgic. The best verse is, “I cannot guess what we’ll discover / we turn the dirt with our arms cupped like shovels / but I know what filthy hands can wash one another / and not one spec will remain.” There is so much hope in the world when songs like this are created. “Soul Meets Body,” was the first single to come from Plans.
Number Nine is “I Will Possess Your Heart,” from Narrow Stairs (2008). This single out of Narrow Stairs was bold enough to have 4 minutes and 33 seconds of merely instruments. For their sake, it paid off. The opening cracks with a static piano until a lonely bass dances. The drums then tackle on, along with a soft guitar riff until the piano kicks back in. The sound escalates to a melancholy orchestra, fumbling in all directions. Before the tempo vortexes into a cataclysmic ensemble, the track shifts to a steady pattern of vocals. The lyrics are just as intense as the instruments; it’s a storyline about a man yearning to be with a woman he is infatuated with. The lyrical meaning is very similar to Sting’s “Every Breath You Take.” “I Will Possess Your Heart,” showcases the extent of DCFC’s musical talent.
Number Eight is “Transatlanticism,” from Transatlanticism (2003). The third song on here takes from the title track of their highest-rated album, Transatlanticism. There are no words to describe the beauty of this song. The piano chord progressions are as deep as church organs. The electric guitar helps to create a dream atmosphere. This song reminds me of someone sitting and staring through a window as it is raining. Gibbard vocalizes his conflict of always falling short in a possessive relationship. “I need you so much closer,” echoes repeatedly. The last minute and a half of this 7.55-minute melancholy juggernaut ends in a harmonizing choir shouting, “So come on…” “Transatlanticism,” would have been further down this list had there been more variety in the instrumentation.
Number Seven is “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” from Plans. “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” is the first song on the Plans album which opens the world to the band’s musical prowess, perfectly. An electrical keyboard plays church hymns as sensitive vocals join to match the rhythmic guitar riff. The drum beats kick in to mirror the guitar sound. The verses tell of someone wanting to open the shades in his or her apartment to reveal the entire Manhattan skyline. The chorus is as poetic as a Vincent Van Gogh painting, “sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole / just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound / but while you debate half-empty or half-full / it slowly rises, your love is gonna drown.” These lyrics are conflicts this person is facing within him or herself to fight depression or accept happiness. I get a feeling of peaceful euphoria every time “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” is playing.
Number Six is “Underneath The Sycamore,” from Codes and Keys. Codes and Keys always gets a bad rap. “Underneath The Sycamore,” debunks the masses with its eccentric and bombastic sounding ballad. The intro begins with a piano and an awkward synthesized pitch. The track quickly jumps into full gear once thick drums and bass pound into the airwaves like wild apes. A steady beat encompasses lyrics that tell a story while an electric guitar warps the dimension. The song is about a person who was originally homeless and lost, “lying in a field of glass / underneath the overpass / mangled in the shards of a metal frame / woke up from my dream by my own name / I was such a wretched man / searching everywhere for a homeland.” His situation changes for the better when he meets someone who lies underneath the same sycamore. A sycamore is an American Maple Tree. “We are the same / we are both sane / underneath the sycamore,” Gibbard repeats in confidence. “We were broken in our ways / sifting through the rubble for the wrong things / I know you’ve got a vengeful heart / and I cannot be stopped as soon as I start / but you have seen your darkest rooms / and I have slept in makeshift tombs / and this where we find our peace / oh this is where we are at least,” denotes someone reassuring their lover that they found the right place. The entire song is symbolic of one lover having a positive perspective for living in poverty. As long as two people are healthy and happy in a shelter together, nothing else matters.
We’re halfway through and Number Five is “Cath…,” from Narrow Stairs. The second single to come from Narrow Stairs goes back to the band’s roots. The simple, but relaxing melody from “Cath…” is lacquered with deeply rooted words. The literal and figurative meaning of the lyrics are DCFC looking back into the past and regretting what could have been. This song points the finger at a young and seemingly attractive girl named Cath on her wedding day. The confused and misguided Cath has chosen a mate she doesn’t love. Is she making a horrible mistake or will she run with it? “Cath…” is easily a relatable chapter in someone’s life who missed out on winning the girl of their dreams. Sometimes our soul mates slip between our fingers. “Cath it seems / that you lived someone else’s dream / and her hand-me-down wedding dress / where the things that could have been are repressed.” Gibbard then reiterates to reason with us by saying, “but you said your vows / and you closed the door / on so many men / who would have loved you more.” One of the band members may have been too late when arriving at the church to yell out, “I object” which is an overused cliché in romantic comedies. “Cath…” can easily be played on the acoustic guitar using the D and G chords.
Number Four’s spot, “Company Calls Epilogue (Alternative Version),” from Forbidden Love – EP (2000), skidded under the radar. “Company Calls Epilogue (Alternative Version),” is another version of “Company Call Epilogue,” which is featured on their sophomore studio album titled, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (2000). The EP version takes the song in another direction to enhance the original. This song shows the sounds of DCFC’s earlier works. Musical artist Coldplay did the same thing when they recorded “Talk.” “Talk,” had an alternative version that was better. “Company Calls Epilogue (Alternative Version),” has a guitar riff that rings on a constant psychedelic loop. Gibbard’s voice is youthful and angelic. The vocals are slightly underwhelmed due to the lower studio quality. This, however, brings the cult underground feel where night crawlers thrive at dive bar concerts. The lyrics are about being rebellious, getting drunk, and checking girls out. It is the perfect anthem for a coming-of-age story. DCFC was just as human as any other teenager.
DFCF has created their most emotional piece with Number Three, “Tiny Vessels,” from Transatlanticism. The guitar strings pluck like rain droplets. The bass and drums pound like a punch driving through someone’s gut; its pain hurts the soul. Ironically, the lyrics are blunt and logical. Gibbard’s voice is initially serene like peach sand. The story tells of a guy who has a short fling with a pretty girl, only to realize that she’s not his type. The protagonist in the song suppresses his hatred of her when she’s around him. “She was beautiful / but she didn’t mean a thing to me,” Gibbard admits. The song really picks up at the bridge with a minute and twenty seconds in. The guitar strumming is so quick that it forms chaotic static as Gibbard screams with a red burning heart, “I wanted to believe / that all the words that I was speaking / as we moved together in the dark / and all the friends that I was telling / and all the playful misspellings.” This last part talks about him regrettably giving the girl a hickey, “and every bite I gave you left a mark / tiny vessel oozed into your neck / and formed the bruises / that you said you didn’t want to fade / but they did and so did I that day.” Gibbard repeats the chorus while taking more shots at the girl by calling her, “vile and cheap.” This song holds nothing back in its raucous rants. We’ve all had people who we blatantly hated for no reason at some points in our lives. This song can easily be interpreted from a female point of view.
This next track is the third song on this list to be from Transatlanticism. DCFC’s most ambitious score is Number Two’s, “The New Year.” This track begins on a high note and never lets up. The sounds coming from each instrument are as bombastic as fireworks going off. The epic ensembles that follow Gibbard’s calling, “so this is the New Year,” seem to have come from the skies of Mount Olympus. The drumming is loud, the bass is like a gong, and the guitar contrasts as a wind current flowing in reverse. This song departs from the band’s normal flat surface vibes. The lyrics are cheap, but highlight a fun New Year’s Eve moment while describing the anxiety of New Year’s resolutions. “The New Year,” is like a rock opera. Gibbard, Walla, Harmer, and McGerr must have been listening to Queen before recording this song. This is possibly one of the greatest openings to any indie rock album. Give DFCF a round of applause.
Before I reveal the number one song on this countdown, let’s look at a few honorable mentions. “You Are A Tourist,” from Codes and Keys, “We Looked Like Giants,” from Transatlanticism, “Amputations,” from You Can Play These Songs With Chords (2002), “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” from Plans, and “We Laugh Indoors,” from The Photo Album (2001). They are all amazing songs, but have all missed the top ten spot by a small margin.
The best song on here has appeared on the teen drama television series, The O.C. (2003-2007). Number One is “A Movie Script Ending,” from The Photo Album. This piece encompasses everything that DCFC stands for and is the anthem to their band. The drumming leads this emotional roller coaster. The drum beats is something that would be heard at a school Homecoming. The percussions intertwine symmetrically with the plucking of the guitar strings. They paint a picture about a small town who welcomes back a patron after returning home to his or her significant other, only to be disgusted and wanting to leave the moment he or she arrives. DCFC makes fun of the song and themselves when they sing, “Now we all know the words were true in the sappiest songs (yes, yes) / I’ll put them to bed, but they won’t sleep, they’re just shuffling the sheets, they toss and turn, / you can’t begin to get it back.” “A Movie Script Ending,” was the first DCFC song I heard while watching an episode of The O.C. when Seth Cohen, Ryan Atwood, Marissa Cooper, and Summer Roberts are escaping to Tijuana, Mexico for a fun weekend of clubbing. On the road to Tijuana, the track plays while Seth is driving. Seth and Summer begin bickering about the qualities of the road trip when Summer pokes fun at the song. Seth who is an avid fan of DCFC, blurts out, “Do not insult Death Cab.” “A Movie Script Ending,” is what put DCFC on the map as the Kings of indie rock. The lyrics and instruments come together to give a feeling of adventure and travel. This is a great song to drive while a breeze sways through your hair. The song lyrics have a movie script ending, but the instrumentation says something else; you can make your own ending.
Do you agree with this list? Are there songs you wished were mentioned? Write in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this and would like to read more from Anthony, check out his novel ‘Stay Awhile’ on Amazon amazon.com/Stay-Awhile.