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  Photo Album  
  Death Cab For Cutie  
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You're going to have to look a long time to find a better source of pop music than Death Cab For Cutie. Breaking into the underground's uber-consciousness with last year's phenomenal We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, Death Cab have been the crown princes of indie-pop ever since, and rightfully so.

Death Cab makes infectious pop songs, which sounds kinda trite and clichéd but isn't when one is talking about Death Cab, which is only appropriate in the long run. Death Cab makes music that would sound trite and clichéd itself, except it's made by Death Cab, and they somehow pull it off.

Most regulars here at The Sponge will know that Death Cab's centerpiece is lead singer Ben Gibbard's hazy love songs and his not-quite-quivering tenor. So it will come as no surprise to those in the know that The Photo Album is built around Gibbard as well. We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes was a vaguely conceptual album, loosely documenting the heartbreak and unease over an apparent love-lost who moved on a little too quickly for the protagonist's comfort zone to handle. That was a lot of that album's charm, and it made up for an absolute dearth of up-tempo rocking. The Photo Album ditches the concept concept. (Though some folks, looking too hard for something defining, like to see a concept of "individual audio photographs," I tend to think if the best concept you can come up with is that of hodge-podge, you might be better served assuming no concept exists.)

In place of the concept of the first album, Death Cab substitute more rock-oriented guitar work, harder rhythms and stronger production. I can't say I dislike the result. My only beef with We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes was its tendency to wuss along a bit too much, anyway. I'll trade interconnectivity of song topic for more distortion in Chris Walla's fretwork almost any day of the week.

Returning fans will be thrown a bone as the disk gets started, a pretty little song (only 1:47 minutes long) called Steadier Footing opens everything up featuring little more than Gibbard's voice and some accenting organ. But as Movie Script Ending gets going, the tempo picks up steadier and steadier, Walla's production gets a little niftier, and the guitars get a little fuzzier. By the time the Blacking Out the Friction kicks in (track 7) you're presented with the fact that Death Cab, shockingly enough, are getting better as they go.

Considering how good they were beforehand, that's a pretty darned nifty trick.

Things calm back down a bit for Styrofoam Plates, which would be disappointing if not for the sheer emotional umph of Gibbard's familial dysfunctions laid bare. A mid-tempo, excoriating dirge (in the literal meaning) to a dead father-figure, Styrofoam Plates might be the most perfect example of Gibbard's ability to turn the mundane feelings most every human has into powerful verse.

Following up with Coney Island might be the album's only obvious misstep. A nice song once it gets into the flow of things, it's still mostly filler, and the sampled rhythms that comprise the songs first few bars almost single-handedly destroy the emotional gestalt of the previous track. I think they might have been better served by dropping this track entirely, all things considered. That would have allowed the album's groove to flow directly from Styrofoam Plates straight into Debate Exposes Doubt, another solid track that closes everything out.

Still, all things being equal, fans of solid pop music, naturally sweet melodies backed up with well-above-average verse, a lilting voice and solid but not overpowering rhythms, all complimented with just enough crunchiness to keep the neighbors from mocking you should once more adore Death Cab's offerings.

Related Links:
  A review of We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes.  

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