red lights


Safe and Sanitary

Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
(Atlantic Records)
1 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 28, 2005
Death Cab for Cutie

Review by Andy Argyrakis

For a very long time- five albums and two EPs to be exact- Death Cab for Cutie has steadily remained one of Seattle's favorite exports since the grunge era. Throughout that duration, the foursome has embodied old fashioned work ethic, toured the country until all out exhaustion and wrote records from the heart without caring about radio placement or strategic marketing. And for nearly its entire tenure thus far, the group's held true to those indie ideals, amassing a sizeable fan base and general respect from the music industry all across the board. But come this past year, that dynamic seems to have shifted a bit, and while members are still likely sincere in their intentions, Death Cab for Cutie is slowly on its way towards a slicker, more commercial sound.

One look at the back of the band's latest CD Plans and it's hard not to notice the Atlantic label. Of course, that company's put out plenty of worthwhile projects over the years (including the excellent Louis XIV in recent months) but it may not have been the best means to follow-up 2003's applauded Transatlanticism on Barsuk. Let's just say signing to a major label doesn't always stunt a band's growth and balking the term "sell out" may be a bit immature, but the duration of this disappointing disc hearkens back to the distilled days of Jimmy Eat World's initial cross over. Several cases in point include the shiny lead single "Soul Meets Body," the soft and wimpy "Crooked Teeth" and the generic acoustic ballad "Stable Song." "Someday You Will Be Loved" sounds like a cheap version of Sunny Day Real Estate, the oddly titled "Brothers On a Hotel Bed" is loaded with boring shoe gazer dreaminess and "Summer Skin" sadly yearns for love lost that dives as deep as a teenage television soap opera.

To make matters worse, the overarching scope of the record has a dark, almost morose cloud at times that's likely to be inspired by members' age. At 29, primary songwriter Ben Gibbard sings of loosing loved ones and falling further from youth. It's certainly a valid stream of emotions he may very well be facing, but evokes a depressing feeling when combined with the down trodden emo-leaning arrangements of "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and "What Sarah Said." The most optimistic reflection is clearly the opening cut "Marching Bands of Manhattan," but even it has elements of sorrow and sadness across safe and sanitary production. As a result, Plans is not the place to start in acquiring Death Cab for Cutie's catalogue and one would be better off beginning with the last disc and working their way backwards.

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