Josh Page
contributor
November 10, 2005
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Plans Plans
August 30, 2005
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Rock Music Reviews
Death Cab for Cutie
Plans

When Death Cab For Cutie left the ranks of indie label elitism in 2004 by signing with Atlantic Records, many people were left concerned, wondering what changes would take place when Ben Gibbard and company released their much anticipated next album. However, Plans is not a departure from the band's beloved sound that has captivated the indie hearts of America. It is eleven tracks of pure quiet rock with acoustic guitars and pianos to boot. Though each piece is well executed and finessed with the gentle touch of Gibbard's lyrics, the album feels more like a subdued flat plain of quiet songs about love and finding oneself, than a diverse collection showing the range of the band's talents. Fans of Death Cab, or indie in general will probably find the band's latest effort to be an enjoyable and fine piece of work (though not as high-caliber as 2003's Transatlanticism), whereas newcomers brought in by the toe-tapping first single "Soul Meets Body" may feel that the collection is repetitive and too stagnant.

However, regardless of what the overall perception of the album may be, it is hard to deny that the music composed and the lyrics written are stellar. They're inspiring in some spots, heartbreaking in others and beautiful all the way through. The first track is "Marching Bands of Manhattan" which feels like a sunrise that opens the listener up to the idealistic plain that the album will continue on for the next ten tracks. This song is a Death Cab standard, with a steady beat, accented by Gibbard's unique falsetto as he sings clever lyrics that you can imagine him writing on a late night train ride through New York City.

Gibbard's sweet reflections on the past make this record incredibly moving. His delicate remembering of a past love in the majestic "Summer Skin" creates a nostalgic place that Gibbard returns to several times throughout the album. However, he tends to keep the melodrama to a minimum and instead drenches each track in colorful metaphors and symbolism that would make the most respected of writers take notice (taken from "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"):

"If heaven and hell decide
that they both are satisfied,
and illuminate the NO's on their vacancy signs,
if there's no one beside you
when your soul embarks,
then I'll follow you into the dark."
Though these two aforementioned songs, along with the gorgeously lulling "Brothers on a Hotel Bed," create very slow and thoughtful moments on the album, there are several instances where Gibbard and the boys pick up the pace. "Your Heart Is an Empty Room" and "Different Names for the Same Thing" both try to pick up the beat of the album. The latter begins with a distant and echoed Gibbard singing alongside a piano and then cuts out into a faster tempo, filling the empty space from earlier in the song with angelic chimes and a synthesizer that sounds surprisingly like "Such Great Heights" by Gibbard's side project, The Postal Service.

One of the most standout tracks on the record is the recently released second single, "Crooked Teeth." Not only is it the most high energy song on the album, but it contains some of the most ingenious lyrics in recent releases:

"And I knew I'd made horrible call,
and now the state line felt like the Berlin wall,
and there was no doubt about which side I was on.
Cause I built you a home in my heart,
with rotten wood, it decayed from the start. "
"Stable Song" closes out the album with a slow tempo and waning wails that features a guitar in the beginning that sounds like an outtake from the soundtrack of "Brokeback Mountain." Sadly, this is the weakest track, without any sort of distinguishing factor to make it anything more than the curtain call for an otherwise great album. Many memorable moments are established throughout "Plans" and one can't help but think that there could have been a more profound or emotionally stirring closing that would somehow tie together the preceding ten tracks.

However, regardless of whether or not the ending meets the high standards
of nearly every other song, "Plans" still feels (more or less) complete. On the first track, Gibbard claims that "sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole, just like a faucet that leaks, and there is comfort in the sound." Unknowingly, with this line he has summed up his band's latest effort. Each song delivers the low key, slightly melancholy confessions of a man with many feelings. The repetition can be droning, but once the listener allows his or herself to become enveloped in this puddle of musical bliss, there is little they can do to keep from drowning in its simple beauty. Like a peaceful dream, it carries through the subconscious of the listener even after they are done experiencing it. There may not be dramatic climaxes and variations throughout the progression of the album, but with songs this sublime, does it even matter?

Release date: August 30, 2005
Label: Atlantic
Rating: 8.8 / 10

[RMR]