Death Cab for Cutie is a soft/indie-rock band from the Pacific Northwest. They debuted in 1998 with Something About Airplanes, and followed with two more records over the next three years. They finally reached prominence in 2003 with Transatlanticism, which went gold, and the platinum certified Plans in 2005. After Plans, the group slowly tapered in popularity over ten years and three more releases, leading up to their most recent project, Thank You For Today.
Death Cab is haled for their unique, soft-rock sound, rhythmic drum work, and Ben Gibbard’s excellent vocals. Lyrically, their writing utilizes quirky metaphors and excellent visualization to craft infinitely singable tracks with catchy hooks and interesting ideas. There is no shortage of these good qualities on Thank You for Today, but the album comes in as a bit of a mixed bag.
The band adopts an interesting drum-heavy style across the bulk of this record, most noticeably on tracks like the opener, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” and even more so on “Summer Years,” which follows. Jason McGerr’s percussion work on these tracks, as well as on the rest of the record, is solid and rhythmic, if a bit unadventurous.
We’re even treated to a few moments of uncharacteristic excitement on the lead single, “Gold Rush,” as well as “Northern Lights” on the latter half of the track list. These songs feature faster tempos and driving rhythms, decorated by pulsing synth melodies and ringing guitar licks. The project, on the whole, is one of the band’s most energetic to date.
“When We Drive,” or “60 & Punk” may be the closest we’re given to a hint of the group’s earlier style, though much of the sweet guitars are replaced by slowly developing synth swells. Gibbard’s vocals and lyricism on these tracks, however, are very much indicative of classic Death Cab, as he simply and confidently delivers line after line of extended metaphors and hanging melodies.
It’s hard to point out specific songs in the record’s relatively short runtime which stand as weak links -though “Near/Far” and “Autumn Love,” do come to mind- but this doesn’t mean that the album is impervious to criticism. The biggest issue is that which persists throughout the entirety of Death Cab for Cutie’s discography, including Plans: a hanging air of boredom. Though the addition of a few more upbeat tracks helps add a bit of variety, this doesn’t account for the repetitive nature which eventually arises due to the band’s style.
Thank You for Today is very far from perfect, and it’s not the best record in Death Cab’s fairly impressive career, but it is one of their better releases over the last decade. Many of the songs, taken individually, stand as thoughtful, slowly-unraveling art pieces which provide interesting, musical scavenger hunts for careful listeners. However, the insistence on synth instrumentation and relatively rigid production leaves TYfD feeling far less sonically dense than previous projects.
This is a very fun listen for fans of Death Cab for Cutie, or the soft/indie-rock sound in general, but it won’t be winning over unfamiliar listeners anytime soon, and certainly won’t hold up to as many revisits as the group’s earlier work.