Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stay Young, Go Dancing / Death Cab For Cutie

I don't go with the party line on Death Cab for Cutie -- you know, the one that says that everything Ben Gibbard writes is depressing.  Depressing music should be minor-key, draggy, and mumbled, not soaring and brightly melodic.  I hear plenty of irony in songs like "The Sound of Settling" and "Title and Registration"; and come on, what is "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" if not a brave statement about the redemptive power of love? "No Sunlight"?  It may be about the loss of idealism, but it's way too jaunty to be truly depressing.

So when people seemed shocked that gloomy ol' Ben Gibbard would marry the world's perkiest actress, Zooey Deschanel, I just thought -- Perfect Indie Couple!!  The sly humor behind Ben's "depression" is perfectly matched by the melancholy behind Zooey's doe-eyed "perkiness."  A classic yin-yang pairing.

Death Cab's got a brand-new album out -- Codes and Keys -- and I bought it immediately, no preview necessary(These guys are on my short list of bands whose music I don't need to preview.)  I couldn't honestly tell you how it's different from their previous album, Narrow Stairs;  the arrangements seem to have more texture, a little less glossiness, but mostly it just sounds like more Death Cab.  It's hard enough for a band to craft a distinctive sound, and then you expect them to change it with every album?

But now that Ben's a married man, he gets to write an uncomplicated love song for once -- and here it is, last track on the CD, "Stay Young, Go Dancing":


Now, isn't this a lovely thing?  Not only a love song, but a waltz, gently syncopated and swinging happily along. Imagine that!

Believe it or not, Ben launches into the song with a ringing, positive affirmation: "Life is sweet." Will wonders never cease?  Granted, right afterwards he adds, "In the belly of the beast, in the belly of the beast," but hey, he's not wrong.  And he's got a talisman to help him weather life's slings and arrows: "And with her song in your heart / It could never bring you down, it could never bring you down."  Immediately I think of Zooey, with those big blue eyes of hers, artlessly singing in Elf, or scatting through "Sugartown" ("I got my troubles, but they won't last") in 500 Days of Summer.  Zooey can be enchanting indeed.

Verse two follows a similar pattern ("Lost in a maze / Of a thousand rainy days, of a thousand rainy days / And when I heard her voice, / Well it led me to the end, yes it led me to the end") before he swings with an upward key change into the chorus: "Cause when she sings, I hear a symphony / And I follow its sound as it echoes through me / I'm renewed / Oh how I feel alive / And through autumn's advancing, we'll stay young, go dancing."  Okay, so he can't leave the "autumn" out (and in the last verse, it's become "winter").  But Keats pulls the same trick in several of his poems; it's the knowledge of autumn that makes summer so sweet, the awareness of gloom that makes sunshine so glorious.

There's more of this hopeful stuff on Codes and Keys --  "Doors Unlocked and Open," "Unobstructed Views," "Under the Sycamore," "Portable Television" -- it still sounds like Death Cab, but those lyrics are less depressing than ever.  Sure, there are still vultures waiting by the side of the road, but we just might be able to avoid them awhile more. For a change, Ben Gibbard's glass is beginning to look half-full.


Uncle E said...

God, I have tried to get into these guys but have yet to be charmed. Don't really know why, they're a talented bunch, just a little faceless, like Spoon, IMO. Convince me, Holly!

NickS said...

I like this song -- though I've never gotten into Death Cab For Cutie, so I don't have anything to convince Uncle E (I will continue to talk up this Spoon song).

I love how he sings the phrase, "Belly of the beast" completely free of darkness or anxiety. The sound of the "B"'s is plush and pleasant.

I don't like the stings, however, they wear out their welcome pretty quickly for me.