A noticeably brighter shade of blue: Death Cab for Cutie releases ‘The Blue EP’

Category:  Music
Friday, September 20th, 2019 at 11:47 AM
A noticeably brighter shade of blue:  Death Cab for Cutie releases ‘The Blue EP’ by Evan Donovan
The EP cover of 'The Blue'

Following a series of increasingly underwhelming releases, I suspected that my lifelong favorite band, Death Cab for Cutie, had become comfortable in their mediocrity. Their latest album, “Thank You for Today,” was the final nail in that coffin.

The departure of co-founding band member Chris Walla and the inclusion of two new members, Dave Depper and Zac Rae, was a calculated risk, and it failed. So at this point, I was not eagerly awaiting the release of “The Blue EP,” the latest 5-track effort from the band.

Somewhere along the way, I had clearly grown out of the sappy songs and lyrical platitudes Death Cab so often provides. It seemed as though Death Cab were growing out of their skin as well, creating more generic mall-rock than emotionally moving songs.

But in spite of my dismal starting position, “The Blue EP” challenged that perspective. I feel optimistic again about the future of a band I once loved.

“To the Ground” brings a tight, creeping rhythm section similar to that of the band’s 2008 hit “I Will Possess Your Heart.” As is the case with most of the songs on this EP, “To the Ground” at least offers something different lyrically. On this track, frontman Ben Gibbard describes in detail the scene of a violent car accident. The lyrics are short but evocative: “Down in the charred remains/stripped the chassis clean.”

What struck me most about “The Blue EP” was the band’s ability to standout yet play it so safe. “Kids in ‘99” is about a gas leak that erupted in Ben’s hometown back in ‘99, killing three boys. A marching band cadence and off-kilter guitars play on as he explains how he’s, “Thinkin’ bout those kids back in ’99.” The song still retains Death Cab’s poppy sound, with Gibbard howling a sweet melody over the chorus.

“Before the Bombs” takes a different approach, describing a fictional scenario of a narrator and his lover in wartime. The lyrics feel a bit dull, but they do little harm to the quality of the song. The tonal direction of this cut is its real selling point. Gliding electric guitar and an upbeat melody add an extra dose of swagger when compared to the average Death Cab track.

The final two songs (the “blue” tracks) are my favorite. “Man in Blue” is the most intimate cut on the EP. Most prominent is Gibbard’s voice and a single, sad electric guitar. Tonally, “Man in Blue” sounds like it could have been a B-side from “Thank You for Today.” Still, it has a kind of fullness in sound that’s been missing from their recent studio releases.

In keeping with the EP’s winning streak, “Blue Bloods” is the perfect closing track. It’s an epic ballad that builds up into a two-and-a-half-minute jam session. This may not sound like much, but, coming from a band so keen on playing it safe as of late, “Blue Bloods” is electrifying. Gibbard’s swooping melodies and intense lyrical imagery on this track create a familiar atmosphere for longtime fans of Death Cab.

In nearly every way, “The Blue EP” is an improvement on the catalog Death Cab’s created in the last decade. Though nowhere near a full return to form, they’ve inched away from the sterile, overproduced sound of “Thank You for Today,” moving to a mix that sounds fuller and more authentic. Though flawed, Gibbard’s lyrics are unquestionably more interesting this time around. Most importantly, “The Blue EP” surprised me. It showed me there is still hope for good things in the band’s future. Though these are not the greatest songs by any measure, “The Blue EP” left me excited for the next Death Cab album again.

7/10

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