Sound is to Death Cab for Cutie what light is to photography: a medium that can somehow overcome its impermanence to preserve moments in time. The Seattle-based alternative rockers’ ability to distill streams of memory into precise and evocative images became clearer than ever with the 2001 release of their third LP, “The Photo Album”. To celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary, the band shared a deluxe edition with previously unreleased material, like acoustic versions and demos, on October 29. Like a loving restoration of a treasured collection of photos, the reissue offers new insight into the creation of a Death Cabin Classic.
Lead singer Ben Gibbard maintains a certain melancholy detachment from his deeply personal lyrics, taking on the dual role of photographer and subject. Far from alienating listeners, however, the distance in Gibbard’s delivery allows for broader perspectives to develop from the album’s brief thumbnails.
On the opening of the album “Steadier Footing”, the austere backdrop of a lonely guitar frames Gibbard’s equally pristine voice as he recounts how the aftermath of a party brings “the luck that I do. ‘ve never had / To make a move “. Instead of taking the chance, Gibbard grows nostalgic for “the people we have met over the past five years” as the accompaniment ramps up. “And will we remember it in ten more?” ” he’s asking himself. This synthesis of the past and the future signals a certain contempt for the present – a likely cause of the missed connection at hand. The acoustic demo features more complex harmonies whose full tone sometimes rivals attention to the lyrics, showing how the band’s later work in the studio helped put “Steadier Footing” on its feet.
“The Photo Album” foreshadowed the key elements of Death Cab for Cutie’s upcoming release, “Transatlanticism” from 2003, and twenty years has only highlighted these parallels. Gibbard concludes each chorus of “A Movie Script Ending” by repeating the word “highway” four or eight times – a smaller scale precursor to the heartbreaking chorus of “I Need You So Close” on the title song of ” Transatlanticism “. The luxury edition’s most obvious nod to ‘Transatlanticism’ appears in a demo of ‘Information Travels Faster’ with alternate lyrics, where Gibbard expresses his wish to ‘tie a tie from here to there / And extend it from our wrists to cover the Atlantic. “
With its fierce ambivalence towards Los Angeles, “Why You’d Want to Live Here” raises questions about which scenes we choose to capture in memory or on film. “Is this the city of angels? Gibbard asks on the band’s demo. He completes the question on the studio version: “Or demons?”
“I Was a Kaleidoscope”, another single from the album, constructs a unique metaphor from the daily appearance of snow on the glasses of glasses. “And I was a kaleidoscope / The snow on my lenses distorting the image / Of what was only one of you,” Gibbard sings over a brash guitar riff. In a live acoustic performance for Seattle radio station KEXP that appears on the Deluxe Edition, the band’s more serene approach to the song still reflects the tension at its heart.
The reissue also includes the three bonus tracks from the first CD pressing of “The Photo Album”, which Death Cab for Cutie later released as “The Stability EP”. In a press release, bassist Nick Harmer noted the “crucial moment” the band reached before recording “The Photo Album”. They eventually decided to devote themselves to music full time, which gave Gibbard “the opportunity to push it through, personally and creatively, and to go … saved. It is worth continuing to do this. In light of this realization, “The Photo Album (Deluxe Edition)” provides a particularly distinct snapshot of Death Cab for Cutie’s career.
– Editor-in-chief Clara V. Nguyen can be contacted at [email protected]