Atlantic Records, 2005
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/15/2005
Sad and beautiful. Poetic and profound. Densely melodic and immensely listenable.
(What? Complete sentences? You people are so demanding sometimes…)
Death Cab For Cutie -- led by singer/lyricist Ben Gibbard and guitarist/producer Christopher Walla -- has mastered the underappreciated art of making melancholy feel gorgeous and compelling. Much like 2003's magnificent Transatlanticism , Plans is a somewhat surreal cycle of songs about interpersonal distance, relationships caught in awkward transition, and cautious optimism mixed with resigned pessimism.
The very best of these songs have a kind of irrefutable artistry and cohesiveness that can be smashingly powerful. To wit:
Opener "Marching Bands Of Manhattan" illustrates with considerable poetic flair how romantic fantasies can crash to earth. "Soul Meets Body" follows with a brilliant arrangement that's all mandolins and high harmonies until you get to the driving, instantly memorable choruses that discover the heretofore mostly theoretical nexus between Fountains Of Wayne and Yes. (Common thread: the Beatles. Yep, them again.)
Next up, "Summer Skin" is an instant classic, a haunting, pitch-perfect portrait of a summer romance fading into fall, its gently insistent snare and piano painting the bittersweet intensity of the moment. The use of the metaphor of peeling skin to describe the shedding of the relationship is pure genius, achingly apt.
In a similar category of artistic ambition is the perhaps slightly too precious "Different Names For The Same Thing," though it's redeemed by the band's audacity in morphing the song halfway through from a somnolent piano ballad to a dynamic drums-and-bells-and-layered-harmonies romp.
Other highlights include; "Someday You Will Be Loved," an alarmingly manic declaration of love that veers from gentle entreaties to overbearing crescendos; the surprisingly playful and propulsive "Crooked Teeth"; and the crisp piano melody at the heart of the powerful "What Sarah Said."
Through the album, Gibbard, Walla, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr hit the listener again and again with confident, purposeful artistry that is abstract enough to intrigue yet raw enough to resonate. If you're looking for slick and easy hit singles, look elsewhere. But if you're interested in hearing a rich, multi-layered album crafted by true artists working in the medium of music, don't miss this disc. Like Transatlanticism before it, Plans is a virtually flawless gem of an album.