It’s easy to forget, if you know them first as a Seattle institution, that Death Cab for Cutie vaulted to fame via The O.C. (Though perhaps that’s because it’s very easy to forget about The O.C.) In many ways as the band has aged, even though their brand is meloncholy introspection, that pop sheen has remained.Death Cab's newest, Thank You for Today, comes out Friday (but it's currently streaming in full on NPR), and it doesn't digress from that tradition much. Thank You finds Ben Gibbard and company making slick songs, full of wistful, soft-filtered nostalgia. Longtime guitarist, songwriter, and producer Chris Walla is now gone, and musically Thank You’s emphasis lands on piano, drums, synths with a heavy studio varnish and modest tempos, which on early listens can make the record a bit of a blur. Even something called “60 and Punk” has Gibbard balladeering about an aging rocker, or as he puts it, “a superhero growing bored with no one to save anymore.”
Lines like that—and there are many—are the albums greatest flaws, though Gibbard has long been an inconsistent lyricist. He has grand ideas, loves loquacity and extended metaphor, but frequently fumbles with them. “You flicker like a fluorescent light” from "Near/Far" isn’t terrible, but then Gibbard feels the need to push further: “An intermittent strobe in a lonely night.”
In the single “Gold Rush” he ponders the shifting culture of Capitol Hill. The song, though, just comes off as lazy plaint, the sort that many longtime Seattlites voice frequently: “Now that our haunts have taken flight / And been replaced with construction sites.” Dive bars replaced by condos, your memories of place disrupted, what a bummer, etc. But we should expect a little more from our artists, shouldn't we? The song's only real nuance comes in juxtaposition. Sonically, “Gold Rush” is all pleasant hooks and sunny backing vocals, and those abut the lyrics interestingly, but it's not enough—which is kind of Thank You for Today in miniature. The record sounds nice, but it doesn’t amount to much.