Death Cab for Cutie fans, the moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived: Lead singer Benjamin Gibbard released his new solo album, Former Lives, and it's available for you to keep on repeat the rest of the week.
That is, only if you need something to keep you satiated until the next Death Cab release.
Former Lives is not Gibbard’s first solo release – superfans might remember his first rendezvous from Death Cab, 1999’s ¡All-Time Quarterback!, which released three albums up until 2002.
But this go-‘round, Gibbard’s aiming for a whole new perspective–one that still isn’t solidified quite yet.
Critics from music news sources Pitchfork and Stereogum look at Former Lives as Gibbard’s way of handling a recent divorce with former wife (get it?) Zooey Deschanel. In fact, Pitchfork says the album is “12 songs that span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking," so it’s easy to expect some kind of wrenching heartache coming from the crooning, indie frontman of a band known for their emotional lyrics.
Not quite, however. Overall, the album not only lacks focus but that certain something casual listeners, Death Cab, and Gibbard fans alike have come to expect.
The album starts off with “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” a minute-long track with whimsical backtrack bum-bum vocals from Gibbard himself simulating a lullaby and creating the perfect segue into “Dream Song,” an overtly simple drum track with a piano solo warranting no other word but “cute.”
But jarred right between those are broken up guitar riffs that ruin the whole vibe and sound misplaced, like Gibbard’s going for something new but isn’t confident enough to stray from his well-known, passive and breezy persona.
Gibbard attempts something new and fun again in “Bigger Than Love” with a duet alongside alternative singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, but the two are too similar vocally and lack the necessary contrast to pull off the song’s goal of a “he said, she said” story.
“Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” carries the middle of the album with listeners’ hopes of “the song” but stays emotionally stagnant, whereas the following “Oh, Woe” contains a fantastic riff that ends too quickly and leaves fans wanting more of the new.
Where Gibbard’s adventurousness does come in hand, however, is in the sixth track, “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke),” which greets fans with a surprising classic mariachi sound underlining Gibbard’s “oohs,” making for a truly unique track that transports you to Sevilla, swaying all the way.
“A Hard One to Know” is Gibbard’s strongest attempt at getting out his feelings of these so-called “three relationships” on which the album is based – it’s punchy, at least for Gibbard, and is full of the slightly veiled cruelty we know and love from Death Cab albums like Narrow Stairs.
On top of the above track, hardcore Gibbard fans will be the most satisfied and immediately notice "Lady Adelaide" and "Teardrop Windows" as standouts and examples of the song, exemplifying the aforementioned, introverted ‘Gibbard touch.’
Gibbard’s true issue in this solo venture and attempt to stand out as something besides the Death Cab frontman is his lack of effort in belting out his strongest emotion, whether it be elation or outright heartbreak and fury.
Fans are wanting the raw vulnerability that should be a given with singer/songwriters, which is something Former Lives unfortunately never achieves despite the number of times Gibbard dips his toes into the volatile waters.
Listeners will also enjoy: Iron and Wine, Pinback, Bright Eyes
Rating: 5.5 out of 10