Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"No Sunlight" / Death Cab for Cutie

While I'm still digesting Elvis' new CD Momofuku -- something wonderful and strange and new -- this other new release slipped in the back door. I've always liked Death Cab for Cutie, anyway, not only for their dark and ever-so-twisted sensibility, but for the undeniably tuneful grooves they lay down.

Apropos of nothing, I discovered over the weekend where their oddball name comes from -- they named themselves after an obscure track from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Britain's answer to the Mothers of Invention. For that alone I have to love these guys.

So here's track three on the new CD Narrow Stairs, an upbeat, highly danceable song about the loss of innocence and the death of idealism. (Typical DCFC material.) Who says you have to sound gloomy about losing your ideals? I was sucked in immediately by its classic guitar hook, something I swear could have been ripped off from Bobby Fuller.

The arc from innocence to experience is clearly laid out: " When I was young / Lying in the grass / I felt so safe / In the warming bath / Of sunlight / Of sunlight." But it's all downhill from there -- "With every year / That came to pass / More clouds appeared / 'Til the sky went black, and there was / No sunlight / No sunlight." Doncha just know the feeling? Totally William Blake.

Granted, they can't resist underlining the meaning in the bridge: "And it disappeared at the same speed / As the idealistic things I believed / The optimist died inside of me." But it doesn't go on and on about it, just keeps up that bouncy syncopated chant of "no sunlight." The drums bash away, the sparkly guitar coasts along, and Ben Gibbard's boyish vocals hop around the cheery melody. He has just enough of an emo quiver in his voice to sell this subversive little tune perfectly.

You've gotta respect this band's confidence. They've got their sound down now, taking that bright indie tone and fleshing it out, without getting seduced by over-production. Their music is just as witty as their lyrics; not show-off witty, just smart and tight and together. Best of all, they've never fallen into the trap of taking themselves too seriously -- a saving grace if there ever was one.

No Sunlight sample

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