Since third full-length The Photo Album's release in 2001, Death Cab For Cutie have been tightening and refining a sound that has seen them gaining huge success, both critically and commercially. With each release Ben Gibbard seems to get even more astute and accurate at painting obscure allegories to describe his feelings, and the rest of the band have polished a melodic, original sound that has become distinctly Death Cab.
Frequent EP releases pepper their discography, sometimes to release tracks that wouldn't fit on (or in) the albums, sometimes just to get a small collection of songs out. These EPs are usually condensed, lean packages of patented guitar-folk-pop, or however you want to describe that specific sound they've made their own. This release is no exception, featuring just five tracks, with four being brand new and the final song being a stripped-down, demo-version of the Narrow Stairs track, 'Talking Bird'.
The EP kicks off with 'Little Bribes', an upbeat, rhythm-guitar driven ode to Las Vegas, featuring the wonderfully imaginative line, "Every slot machine is a robot amputee waving hello", as it tells the story of a lost character among many, "You said this city has a beating heart, That pushes people down the boulevard, And they’re all hoping for a wish fulfilled, In a desert for a dollar bill". The breakdown is heart-breakingly melodic, followed with a simple guitar solo before heading back to the final verse.
Following this is the slower paced 'Diamond and a Tether', from the perception of a young man, afraid to commit fully to a relationship. While this may sound a little generic, Gibbard rises above any tedious conventions purely with his brilliant wordplay and candidly honest approach, "I’ve got this habit I abhor, When we go out I’m always watching the door, As if there’s someone I’m gonna see, Who could out do the things that you do to me". The sweeping, epic melody of the chorus soars, making this the best track on the EP, simplicity employed so as not to over-clutter a perfect pop song.
Third track 'My Mirror Speaks' kicks off with a solid drum beat, with each instrument coming in gradually until building up to a pulsing, powerful track. Lyrically, the song seems to be concerned with lonliness and fear of change, at first speaking from the narrator's perspective then moving to describing another in the same situation, "Cause I am a man who hides, From all that binds, In a mess of fading lines" changing to, "And he's a man who hides..."
Following this, 'I Was Once A Loyal Lover', deals with an protagonist who sees his friends getting married and moving into permanent, comfortable relationships, "All my friends are forward thinking, Getting hitched and quitting drinking", while the former, long-term relationships the character used to have are replaced with short, fleeting moments of passion, " And now each loves more like a match, A blinding spark that burns out fast". However, he prefers his approach, because his friends relationships seem stale and boring in their safety, "Who thinks that life with a nice girl is like, Waiting for a bus to work", and he craves something more. Ultimately, the song is one of a man looking back at his past relationships and observing those around him. In terms of music, the track bears some noisy, distorted lead-guitar work, reminiscent of the melodic noise work of bands like Black Tambourine, but it does not overpower the melody, and cuts out at as the backup piano enters, to return as the song builds up to a melodic, powerful crescendo. Single, delay-tinged chords and strong, bass work back up Ben on the interlude, and the song cuts most of the heavier sound for the outro, with a repeated stanza while the guitar picks out chords.
Final track 'Talking Bird', gives the EP a pretty, simplistic closer, featuring just Ben's singing accompanied by a single capo-ed acoustic guitar.
The EP truly showcases Death Cab For Cutie's deft ability to write beautiful, melodic pop songs and accompany them with decptively simple-sounding music, contained in a tight five track package.
9 / 10
9 / 10