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Death Cab For Cutie - Asphalt Meadows (Album Review)

Wednesday, 21 September 2022 Written by Craig Howieson

Death Cab For Cutie have been growing old with style and grace for over a decade now. The departure of guitarist-producer Chris Walla in 2014 tore a hole in the hull of the group, but it didn’t sink them. And on 2017’s ‘Thank You For Today’ and the subsequent ‘Blue EP’ and ‘Georgia EP’ they reaffirmed themselves as the elder statesmen of the alternative scene, a beacon of hard won success and consistency.

Consistency is perhaps not the most exciting compliment to throw at a group but it does somewhat sum up the band’s recent history. On their 10th record ‘Asphalt Meadows’, it will come as no surprise that the same level of quality remains. What is a surprise is the inventive playfulness and risks that soak into the pores of the tracks.

Straight out the starting gates we are treated to this newfound energy. Opener I Don’t Know How I Survive slinks in with a cyclical guitar groove that sits perfectly under Ben Gibbard's exquisite voice. Then with little warning you are crushed by a wall of distorted guitars that is the heaviest the band have sounded in…well, ever. 

John Congleton is on production duties for ‘Asphalt Meadows’, and shows a knack for identifying the perfect moments to push the band to their extremes, turning the dial to the red before there is any chance of stagnation setting in. Listening to this record will feel for many the same way it did when they first heard the band’s 2008 release ‘Narrow Stairs’, where a similar experimentalism roamed.

Death Cab For Cutie are now of a size where they are expected, by fans and label alike, to write hits and ‘Asphalt Meadows’ is not short on these either, whether that be the succinct rock of lead single Roman Candles, the heartfelt ode to the friends that were always there for you on Rand McNally, or even the dirty electro-pop of album closer I’ll Never Give Up On You. 

What the band may not have been expected to do though is release the primarily spoken work Foxglove Through The Clearcut as a single. The track screams deep cut, but it is undoubtedly one of their finest moments to date. Gibbard’s lyrics are a road trip in search of answers, and at a point where you think his voice holds no further surprises, he upends expectations by simply talking directly to you. It’s disarming and affecting, and somehow underpins the themes of impermanence and the fight to keep the candle of hope alight that courses through the record. 

Lyrically Gibbard rarely dips below outstanding. On ‘Asphalt Meadows’ he can be both candid and veiled but it is clear that the march of time and its implications are at the forefront of his mind. But as he and his band look towards middle age, they have found new ways to keep their output both exciting and engaging. 

Death Cab For Cutie Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 18 2023 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sun March 19 2023 - DUBLIN Bord Gais Energy Theatre
Tue March 21 2023 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Wed March 22 2023 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Thu March 23 2023 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Sat March 25 2023 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Mon March 27 2023 - BRIGHTON Dome Concert Hall
Wed March 29 2023 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall

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