Pitchfork: 6.5 Rolling Stone: 3/5 Metacritic: 66 Spin: N/A
Released: August 2005
Marching Bands of Manhattan
Soul Meets Body
Different Names for the Same Thing
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
Your Heart Is an Empty Room [LISTEN]
Someday You Will Be Loved
What Sarah Said
Brothers on a Hotel Bed
I’ve heard some long-time, hardcore Death Cab for Cutie fans downplay Plans, the band’s fifth studio album, resisting its more manicured and polished production, unlike some of their earlier releases. But as an unbiased listener who by chance didn’t truly discover the greatness of Death Cab until Plans, there’s no denying that it not only serves as an example of the evolved songwriting sensibilities and musical cohesiveness between Ben Gibbard and his band, it’s also an example of a great album in general, one of the best of 2005 (I’d argue that some reviewer criticsm stemmed from distractions by what they thought Plans should sound like, instead of simply delighting in what it was).
“Marching Bands of Manhattan” kicks off the album with an epic-indicative organ introduction, then joined by a falsetto-reaching Gibbard and some repetitive but melody-enhancing guitar and light percussion. As the equally melancholy chorus enters midway with, “Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole/ Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound/ But while you debate half empty or half full/ It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown,” it repeats until the song’s close, matching its musical backdrop in growing intensity.
“Soul Meets Body”, the video of which triggered my knowledge of the new album in the first place from my seat in my university cafeteria, boasts a driving beat and guitar rhythm from start to finish. It’s consistently catchy, both through its harmony-aided verses and guitar-picking bridge, the first run of which features the unmistakable “Ba-da-ba-da-ba-baa”s from Gibbard.
“Summer Skin” introduces a beautiful combination of chords via simple piano, intricate bassline, and military-esque drumbeat…a bittersweet reflection of a romance begun and ended in the sunny season. Somewhat similarly, but unique on its own merits, “Different Names for the Same Thing” opens as a haunting piano ballad, Gibbard’s sentimental vocals as if they’re being sung in an empty auditorium. Halfway through, however, after petering out into a hushed soundscape, rising percussion gives way to the song’s return… a synth-y, bass-heavy anthem that you didn’t see coming.
“I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, the most acoustic and stripped-down track on Plans, takes perhaps the album’s deepest lyrics and sets them to the sincere and heartfelt tone of Gibbard and his guitar. He sings, “If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I’ll follow you into the dark.”
Regardless of the love I share with many of the album’s (and band’s) songs, my favorite simply has to be “Your Heart Is an Empty Room”, primarily for the timeless reason that it carries the best song structure and melody. Paced with a simple bass drum hit, its predominant drive comes from the even-tempered strumming of acoustic guitar(s), a supporting bassline, and Gibbard’s subtly impassioned vocals, at times accented by some high-pitched electric guitar riffs. For a guy pondering what to do with his life (and I know I’m not the only one), lines like “And all you see is where else you could be when you’re at home” hit close to the heart.
One of the most rocking songs on the album (eventually), “Someday You Will Be Loved”, opens with the muffled reverb of electric guitar, an edgy bassline, and simple percussion, Gibbard appealing to what seems to be an ex-lover: “You’ll be loved, you’ll be loved like you never have known/ And the memories of me will seem more like bad dreams/ Just a series of blurs like I never occurred/ Someday you will be loved.” The last minute sees all members let loose for a final verse and chorus.
“Crooked Teeth” sets aside the serious tone that permeates the bulk of Plans for a more poppy, generic chord progression, though one clearly given the Death Cab treatment. It’s a fun head-nodder, and the last one on the album, as the last three songs (not covered in this review) fall back to more delicate melodies that showcase some of Gibbard’s more emotional songwriting talents.
The frotnman’s stated that “if [predecessor] Transatlanticism was an inhale, Plans is an exhale.” The previous album, my second favorite from the group, certainly was a breath of fresh air. Similarly, 2008’s Narrow Stairs wasn’t without a healthy amount of lasting songs, though it seemed to reach for something a bit harder in sound. For me, Plans is the happy medium, nestled in-between the past and present Death Cab, and like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it sounds just right.