Death Cab for Cutie Plans

[Atlantic; 2005]

Styles: indie rock, indie pop, wuss rock
Others: Bedhead, Built to Spill, Colplay, Postal Service

Many of us here in the highly skilled and well-paid world of semi-professional music journalism have been waiting for Death Cab for Cutie to slip up. We have decided, either privately or publicly, that we're upset one of our beloved "indie" bands went all major-label on us. Many of us have disavowed any recollection of 2000's exceptional We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, and despite our addiction to The O.C. have secretly hated Ben Gibbard and Co. for allowing the show to use their music. It's like DCFC are that too-cute boy/girl we dated in high school, who broke it off to date a much hotter, funnier, more successful version of us; we comfort ourselves by finding any faults we can, and pray for his/her embarrassment.

Personally, as I grew past my punk-rawk, "everyone who's sold more than 10,000 records is a sell-out" phase, I began to appreciate this attitude as the poppycock that it is, at least as regards music. There are no 401k's for musicians. No company health insurance. When you get too old to hack it, or the drummer quits, or one of the band members moves to freakin' Indiana of all places, that's it. No more money. Only a shit-job somewhere, where you are years behind your peers in terms of getting promotions to management at the local Chic-Fil-A. So I don't automatically begrudge a band that finds itself in the position to go for the big-bucks saying "Fuck it. I'd like to have a label pay for nice hotels while I'm on the road. I'd like to put some money in the bank, or start a trust fund for the kiddies." So frankly, I'm kinda rooting for DCFC. In the immortal words of Method Man; "Get the money/ dolla dolla bill, y'all."

For all intents and purposes, round one of the DCFC vs. indie-snobs title-fight goes to the band, who have long since found a style that works for them and are content to stick with it. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" sets the tone for the album, building to an emotional climax which finds Gibbard issuing the warning: "While you debate half-empty or half-full/ The water rises/Your love is gonna drown." Elsewhere, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," a stripped-down song built on death, love and acoustic guitar, ranks as one of the band's best songs to date; and "What Sarah Said" and "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" are both quite enjoyable.

But before we get too carried away with praise, let's also address some facts. First, one man's "signature sound" is another man's "redundant crap," and depending on your point of view, one of these labels is thoroughly appropriate for the band. Second, this album does suffer from a lack of texture, even by the band's standards. There is nothing like Transatlaticism's "Sound of Settling" here to offset the never-ending stream of ballads and down-tempo songs. It may take the listener's concentrated effort to distinguish the end of "Soul Meets Body" from the beginning of "Summer Skin," and even after a dozen listens, I can't recall the melody to "Someday You Will Be Loved."

In the end, Plans finds the band doing their thing in much the same way they always have. They may have shed their "indie" label for cash and the chance to hang with Ryan and Seth (and Peter Gallagher's eyebrows). And perhaps Plans is a little heavy on the ballads, but all-in-all, the boys are still worth the listen, even without the indie-cred.

1. Marching Bands Of Manhattan
2. Soul Meets Body
3. Summer Skin
4. Different Names For The Same Thing
5. I Will Follow You Into The Dark
6. Your Heart Is An Empty Room
7. Someday You Will Be Loved
8. Crooked Teeth
9. What Sara Said
10. Brothers On A Hotel Bed
11. Stable Song