One of indie rock's greatest success stories, Death Cab for Cutie has managed to rise from guitarist/vocalist Ben Gibbard’s small solo project to one of today’s most popular rock quartets while staying true to their sound.
In the summer of 1997, with the help of producer Chris Walla, Gibbard recorded an album’s worth of solo material released as the cassette You Can Play These Songs With Chords. After a swell of local popularity, they enlisted a few band members and made their studio debut with 1998's Something About Airplanes. Their next album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes was issued in 2000 and followed by The Forbidden Love EP later in the year. By the time their third studio release, The Photo Album, was released Death Cab for Cutie had amassed a sizable and devoted audience. Barsuk re-released You Can Play These Songs With Chords with ten additional songs in 2002 and a year later Transatlanticism made a big splash in the music scene, garnering attention from industry execs and was prominently featured on The OC.
After spending much of 2006 in the midst of a turbulent tour cycle surrounding their RIAA platinum, Grammy-nominated album Plans, the band took a well-deserved break during the first part of 2007. Frontman Ben Gibbard embarked on his first-ever solo tour; guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla released a solo album and produced records for acts like Tegan And Sara; drummer Jason McGerr constructed his own recording studio, Two Sticks; and bassist Nick Harmer, as always seems to be the case, worked on various projects. If Plans was a collection of firsts – Death Cab’s first album for a major label; the first disc to feature songwriting contributions from someone other than Gibbard; the first Death Cab disc recorded with the same drummer as the one before – Narrow Stairs feels more like home.
When asked to describe Death Cab For Cutie’s sixth and most recent studio album, Narrow Stairs, Walla characterizes it as “having teeth,” and we can’t think of a more apt summarization of the disc. While many bands in Death Cab For Cutie’s situation would try to recreate the success of hit songs like “Soul Meets Body” or “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” instead the band have crafted the most ambitious and varied album of their career by simply doing what they’ve been doing since they formed in Bellingham, Washington a decade ago – made a brilliant record that refuses to pander, while stretching the artistic boundaries of what a Death Cab For Cutie record should sound like.
"If you can't stand in place, you can’t tell who's walking away," Gibbard croons on Narrow Stairs' penultimate track, "Pity And Fear" - and while that's true, Death Cab For Cutie have taken a giant step forward both creatively and conceptually with this album. While it hasn't been an easy road to get to this point, Death Cab For Cutie insist that more than anything, this next chapter in the band's evolution is due to the fact that they're relating both as individuals and band mates.