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A Photo Finish

 

Death Cab For Cutie: The Photo Album

Barsuk, 2001

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: November 14, 2001

By Laurence Station

Bellingham, WA-born, indie pop quartet, Death Cab for Cutie has been producing winsome, heartfelt, carefully constructed music since 1997. The Photo Album, the band's third full-length, and follow-up to last year's praiseworthy We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, only reinforces the notion that this is one outfit worth following by offering tight, well-executed pop songs built around lead singer Ben Gibbard's pointed observations on everything from the perils of city living to parental abandonment.

Exploring themes similar to 2000's We Have The Facts, be it loss ("Information Travels Faster"), denial ("Blocking Out the Friction"), or infatuation ("Debate Exposes Doubt"), The Photo Album deftly addresses issues other than the standard "relationship gone bad" fare. Gibbard ponders lucid dreaming on "A Movie Script Ending," rants against large American cities (L.A. in particular) on the wonderfully forthright and unpretentious "Why You'd Want to Live Here," and vilifies an absentee parent on "Styrofoam Plates" -- the record's finest song. What really stands out, however, and ultimately elevates the album to loftier heights than previous efforts, is the presence of new drummer Michael Schorr, whose jittery, yet-precisely controlled stick work adds a muscular edge to tracks that otherwise might have vanished in a delicate, ephemeral hush.

On the downside, the opening cut, "Steadier Footing," is a barely-there whisper of a track that, while pretty, might have been better sequenced towards the end or left off the record all together. And the fun "I Was a Kaleidoscope," the peppiest song on the album, breaks the darker edged tone dominating the album's brooding center, leaving the record feeling decidedly off-balance.

If nothing else, The Photo Album provides a tantalizing snapshot of a band evolving both musically and lyrically, hinting at the promise of even greater things to come.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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