For the better part of 15 years, Benjamin Gibbard has been the voice of Washington’s Death Cab for Cutie, pulling his bandmates up the independent ladder until they joined with Atlantic Records and released their fifth album, Plans, in 2005. The transition from an independent label to a major label often means an alteration of sound for artists but since it was the quartet’s track record with their existing sound, and the success of their fourth album, Transatlanticism, that attracted Atlantic’s attention, they didn’t have to make those changes. They continued working with the same sounds they had had all along and released two more albums following Plans.
Having returned to his independent roots, and the label that had given him so much success with Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC), Benjamin Gibbard is back on Barsuk Records with his first solo effort, Former Lives. The problem that listeners will encounter from the first track is there is nothing about Former Lives to set it apart as a solo album. Some of the tracks are even songs that were originally written for DCFC’s 2011 album, Codes and Keys, but didn’t make the final cut.
That is not to say that it is an unworthy album. If you have been a Death Cab fan over the years, you will not be disappointed. Gibbard hasn’t moved away from the piano melodies and guitar progressions that have been so advantageous for him thus far. But if you were hoping for Gibbard to step outside his comfort zone and experiment with different sounds and techniques—if you were expecting something in the vein of the Postal Service, for example—you are not going to find it here. The biggest standout of Former Lives is Aimee Mann’s contribution to “Bigger Than Love,” the album’s fourth track.
Even the cover art is reminiscent of the art used for Death Cab‘s Narrow Stairs album.
As a longtime fan of Death Cab for Cutie, I have to say I am torn on Former Lives. It fits in well with the rest of the band’s collection, and that is comforting. But I was hoping for some kind of departure from the expected. I was hoping for a reason to make this solo album. I was hoping for novelty and innovation. What I got could very well have been another new DCFC album. It has merit, for what it is, but I was definitely looking for it to be something different.
Former Lives, the first official solo album from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard is available in CD, MP3 and vinyl formats where each are sold, starting October 16.