Death Cab for Cutie lives in rosy retrospection, with pensive love songs that score halcyon college days and trips back to the old stomping grounds. On their new 10-track LP Thank You for Today, the indie-rockers continue that sentimental voyage, offering familiar odes to sweet sadness. But what once exuded cathartic melancholia has now matured into overwrought melodrama.
“Is anything the way it used to be?” sings frontman Ben Gibbard on opener “I Dreamt We Spoke Again.” He dives deeper on “Summer Years,” as he accepts the once all-encompassing love of his 2000s are now gone (“You can’t double-back to your summer years”). Though Death Cab typically thrives in the dichotomy between love and despair (see: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”), on Today, they’re mostly dejected. “If I capsize, it’s alright,” Gibbard rationalizes on “Autumn Love.” “Because I’ve been feeling too invincible/I need to know death deeper than the deepest of connection.” For a band once accustomed to emotional turbulence, Death Cab seems to have gone numb.
They do occasionally attempt to surpass that newfound rut. Lead single “Gold Rush” opens with a thumping synth beat reminiscent of the solo work of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry pops up unaccredited on “Northern Lights,” illuminating Today with a much-needed buoyancy. The group’s subtle nods at electronica shy away from their typical acoustic sounds and toward more modern flourishes a la 2015’s Kintsugi. However, it’s clear the band is more comfortable retreating to the mundane chords of a track like “Near Far.”
The mid-life crisis comes to a head on the final track “60 & Punk,” resolving that their days of “working in a record store/daydreaming about the upcoming tour” are over. They’ve grown older, left a lover or two, and lost some friends (and aging fans) along the way. “A curtain falls to applause, and the band plays you off,” sings Gibbard. “A superhero growing boy with no one to save anymore.” C+