The great thing about Death Cab For Cutie is that even though their sound keeps expanding, and their fan base keeps growing, they are still the same band, true to their roots and making just as excellent music as ever. Over the past week, Stereogum has released all five songs from Death Cab's brand new B-Sides album, Open Door. They are tunes that the band recorded but didn't quite fit in with Narrow Stairs' flow. Thankfully, they fit their own flow, as Gibbard and company have released one of the most satisfying B-Side albums in recent memory.
EP opener "Little Bribes" recalls The Decemberists' "Rake Song" with less grotesque lyrics, a hard-rocking Gibbard doing his thing over an aggressive acoustic guitar riff. You can already tell that this song wouldn't have fit as well on Narrow Stairs; it has a vibe and a groove all its own, but it's a great one. It's a genuine blues track, with some clever, fun lyrics and a continuation of the expansion in sound that Death Cab showed on Stairs. The emo, reflective band of yesteryear is gone. The new Death Cab, well, rocks.
And even when Death Cab DOES choose to take the old-school, chill, sad song approach, it works in a different way than "A Lack Of Color" or "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" both do. This shows on Open Door's second track, "A Diamond And A Tether." Almost a mellowed-out "Cath...," Gibbard croons over some light guitars and eventually, the layers of production (choir voices, overlapping guitars) fill out his voice once the chorus hits: "I know you can't hold out forever, waiting on a diamond, and a tether." The NEW sad Death Cab takes a less stripped-down, but just as reflective approach.
"My Mirror Speaks" also takes the fast-paced-but-melancholy approach, with well-used, intense hand-claps and guitars mimicking Gibbard's voice (the fast-paced aspect of the song), along with a haunting falsetto display from Gibbard at the chorus and some reflective lyrics (the depressing part): "There's a tangled thread, inside my head, with nothing on either end." It works to stunning effect, and develops into not only the EP's best song, but a track that could have been a Narrow Stairs standout.
"I Was Once A Loyal Lover" works as the EP's "pop" song, with a rollicking, piano-infused melody and steady amped-up beat. It's a good song- nothing stellar, but for a B-Side, great. And Gibbard and company close things out with not a new track, but a demo of one of Narrow Stairs' weakest tracks, "Talking Bird." And I must say that, in comparison to the rather awkward and clunky album version, this track sounds much nicer- more raw and simple (the ukelele does the trick).
This is still the Death Cab of Narrow Stairs at work; I'm actually surprised at the immense amount of Stereogum commenters who think that this is a totally new, awesome direction for DC, and that Narrow Stairs was a fluke. I happen to think that Stairs was an underrated gem, one that introduced not a new side of the band, persay, but rather a fantastic expansion of their initial sound. Open Door is no exception- the fact that Death Cab can throw four B-Sides out and they can be just as good as anything on their full-length officially proves that the band has perfected their stellar brand of dark-yet-happy, raw-yet-polished, accessible-yet-indie brand of pop-rock.