Learning to like Death Cab for Cutie, one song at a time

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Death Cab for Cutie
  • Courtesy of Atlantic Records
  • Death Cab for Cutie
When it comes to Ben Gibbard projects I gravitate toward the Postal Service, in part because for one reason or another Death Cab for Cutie never really did it for me. I certainly understand the group's appeal—mannered, cozy indie rock that's bookish enough to be "smart" but not intellectual in a way that could get in the way of mass acceptance. As I moved from high school to college in the mid-aughts and The O.C. took hold of many folks my age, so too did Death Cab, the little band that could, and did, become a bigger band with Billboard-sized numbers. And yet I never quite got hooked, at least until a couple weeks ago.

Well, hooked is a slight overstatement—but I did spend a handful of days playing "No Room in Frame" at least once every few hours. The song kicks off the band's new Kintsugi, an album that, like many other Death Cab full-lengths, I can't seem to get through in one listen. Part of the issue appears in the sixth song, "Hold No Guns," in which Gibbard asks, "My love, why do you run? / For my hands hold no guns." I didn't expect the 38-year-old Gibbard—a man well versed in the many ways to lose (and leave) your lover—to create such a tone-deaf chorus, and "Hold No Guns" is about as far as I get.

But to reach that point I'll have to get further than "No Room in Frame." I can't exactly pinpoint why I've found that particular song spellbinding, though I'm quick to blame something resembling nostalgia. I listened to "No Room in Frame" on repeat while trimming down the clutter of my past on a trip to visit my parents. While I never had much of a heart for Death Cab, the band was in the air the last time I lived at the place I still call home, and Gibbard's tender, uniquely bashful vocals slightly reminded me of that era. At the very least the tune's lonely, minimal pianos and wistful guitar lines have a sentimental charm, and Death Cab imparts its signature ability to insert drama and weight to a song that feels ordinary. Lyrically the song is difficult to identify with, as Gibbard is mostly singing about getting left out of red-carpet photo sessions by his ex-wife, Zooey Deschanel—though I suppose that's the norm for him now.

Death Cab For Cutie returns to town tomorrow for a two-night stand at the Chicago Theatre. Both shows are sold out, but you can still listen to "No Room in Frame" on a loop—it's today's 12 O'Clock Track, so start the process below.

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