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Album Review: Death Cab For Cutie - Thank You For Today

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Seattle underdog-come-giants Death Cab For Cutie are known for Ben Gillard’s unique Sunday-morning vocals and pensive lyrics, epitomised in their most well-known track: the tragically beautiful ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’.

Their previous album, Kintsugi, showed the band’s competency in the indie-rock sphere, exemplified in ‘The Ghosts Of Beverly Hill Drive’, driven by its syncopated guitar pangs. However, the synth-soaked Thank You For Today allows itself to be more of an emotional outlet for Gillard.

Death Cab For Cutie released three singles in the lead up the album’s release, igniting fan’s excitement. The first track on the album, the pre-released single ‘I Dreamt We Spoke Again’, cascades with syncopated synths chords, summoning Fleetwood Mac-esque harmonies in the chorus and a captivatingly laidback guitar solo.

The slight distortion of the guitar, Gillard’s voice and the overriding softness of the synths create a drifty, dream-like and night-drive quality to the song. This allows the song to embody its limited and repetitive lyrics - Gillard pines for his ex in his dreams but to no avail; “But when I awoke, when I awoke / I could not remember / Anything you said / Anything you said.”

‘When We Drive’, exudes the same feel, as synths effortlessly melt into each other; ‘driving’ is almost a metaphor for a relationship journey, in which Gillard merely seeks the vital element of companionship. “I can’t expect you to be honest / Or to be faithful every day to the end / I just need you to be always a friend.”

Adjacent to the first track is ‘Summer Years’ where Gillard's lyricism continues to thirst for what he once had, And I wonder where you are tonight / If the one you're with was a compromise”. The chorus is also tinged with a sense of acceptance, As we're walking lines in parallel / That will never meet and it's just as well” and ultimately pales in comparison to Gillard’s emotional honesty. Instrumentation continues to be a theme throughout the album and in ‘Summer Years’ it is the talent of drummer Jason McGerr that comes into the forefront.

The album’s first buzz-inducing single, ‘Gold Years’, is a love child of Beck and BØRNS; a ‘synthified’ acoustic backing, piano pangs and overlayed backing vocals/harmony masterpiece. ‘Gold Years’ sees Gillard lamenting for his Seattle, the repetition of “It didn’t use to be this way” and “Please don’t change” reinforce the song’s message.“Gold rush” is chanted softly in the backing vocals as if to embody the never-ending consumerist desire that Gillard is criticising, I'm sifting through these wreckage piles / Through the rubble of bricks and wires / Looking for something I'll never find.”

Additionally, ‘Northern Lights’ romanticises a once-cherished love, “And I'd never be that close again to your lips and perfect skin / As the tide receded into the unknown”, “Northern lights filled our skies / Empty nights synchronized”. Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry’s harmonising vocals in the chorus add to the song’s wistfulness.  

Gillard’s yearning, whether for a person or a place, is interwoven into the album’s introspective lyrical DNA. ‘Autumn Love’, a mid-tempo pre-released single, is saturated with self-reflection, in both the lyrical melody and more acoustic-style guitar flourishes. The choruses are reminiscent of Banfi’s ‘Where We Part’, filled with a sweetness that represents the song’s advocation for self-liberation. Just leave me floating on the open ocean / And let the moonlight take me anywhere on a tidal flow / And if I capsize it's alright / 'Cause I've been feeling too invincible”.

The mundane ‘autumn love’ is not sufficient in its depth of personal intimacy – a new perspective on the end of a relationship. ‘Your Hurricane’ is another self-assured track, “And you try to explain who's at fault for your mistakes / But I won't be the debris in your hurricane", which reverts back to the band’s classic style with alternative rock style guitar twangs. The lyrics of ‘Your Hurricane’ are particularly poetic, making them some of the most beautiful of the album’s 10 tracks – “Heaven is a hole in the sky / The stars are cracks in the ceiling of night”.

Death Cab For Cutie close out the album with ’60 & Punk’, by far the most nostalgic song. The track is especially striking, led by distorted broken arpeggiated piano chords, as if playing a song from past lifetime that is incongruent with the present; “When I met you I was 22 / Trying so hard to play it cool / But there was so much I needed to say / And nothing came out the right way”.

Thank You For Today is inundated with ambient synths, and shines with some of the band’s most perceptive, amorous and personal lyrics to date. The overriding message of the album shows Gillard’s maturity; realising that, through the yearning, one must possess self-assurance and acceptance for the present. This skilfully ties the tracks of the album together, especially lyrically, with its title. ‘Today’ is a culmination of previous emotions for which our past relationships, with either people or places, are a blueprint. 

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