Death Cab for Cutie Find Their Style on “Asphalt Meadows”

This+is+their+10th+studio+album+

Michael Muller

This is their 10th studio album

Xander Romendio

With the release of their tenth album, Death Cab for Cutie continue to find something new and exciting with their sound. Their newest album, “Asphalt Meadows,” released Friday, September 21st, not only demonstrates the band is nowhere near slowing down, but they have no intention of becoming anything they are not. 

After facing a massive blow with the departure of guitarist Chris Walla, Death Cab was left with a spot that new guitarist Dave Depper and pianist Zac Rae hoped to fill. Unfortunately, their last album, “Thank You For Today,” did not promise that they would find a solution. Although it wasn’t necessarily a departure from the band’s essence, the basic, pop friendly arrangements with lackluster lyrics were significantly less introspective than their past work. Fortunately, “Asphalt Meadows” took these criticisms and turned them on their head.

The signature sound of guitar harmonies, reserved yet powerful drum grooves, and emotional lyrics all return on “Asphalt Meadows.” The album is reminiscent of previous albums such as “Transatlanticism,” “Plans,” and “Narrows Stairs,” bringing back their punk rock sound mixed with a delicate alternative twist.

The opening track, “I Don’t Know How I Survive,” serves as an early sign that this album is different from their last. The song opens with a bouncy guitar riff as Benjamin Gibbard relays his experiences with panic attacks. The riff continues to go on as drums and bass join the mix, then, all of a sudden, a wall of sound erupts. Distorted power chords ring loud and proud, ushering in an already iconic chorus. The second verse and chorus follow the same structure with a crunchy guitar solo courtesy of Dave Depper. While the angst of past records seems to have evaporated from this song, the frustration of age and reflection are more present than ever, which seems to be the best route for the band.

The rest of the album is filled with these moments of reflection, but the album’s centerpiece, “Foxglove Through the Clearcut,” is the best example of this theme. Gibbard takes a new approach to lyrics and delivers lullaby-esque spoken word verses that tell the story of a man who observes the world in fear and anxiety:

 “For what is a funeral without flowers, but ten thousand tombstones reaching for the sky,” Gibbard sings. 

 “Foxglove Through the Clearcut” continually builds to an emotive post rock exhibition that leaves the listener with melancholic hope and fear for the future.

The one low point of the album is the song “Pepper.” While not a bad song, it simply doesn’t match the heights of the album’s other songs. The instrumental arrangement is akin to “Thank You for Today” and lacks the importance or weight that the other songs carry. Gibbard’s lyrics are still rich and emotional, and the production from John Congleton is clean and glittery. Unfortunately, these factors aren’t enough to save the song from idle appreciation.

All in all, “Asphalt Meadows” is an album that didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. It perfectly encapsulates what Death Cab has been and what they will continue to be in a subtle and beautiful way. The theme of reflection is so expertly portrayed throughout the album, and songs like “Rand McNally,”  “Here to Forever,” and “Foxglove Through the Clearcut,” add a tinge of melancholy to this reflective process. 

Coming off the heels of “Thank You For Today,” many fans somewhat doubted the band’s current direction, but “Asphalt Meadows” dashed those fears away and taught us that it’s okay to let go.