It has become easy to forget how good Death Cab for Cutie have been, and for how long. They have been alternative heroes since the start of this century/millennium, yet haven’t slumped into celebrity like so many others. They moved to a major label, without changing their sound or quality. Singer/frontman Benjamin Gibbard might have beefed up (and was briefly married to a celebrity actress/singer, Zooey Deschanel), but he hasn’t gone disco or anything.
Yet the band faced maybe its toughest crisis ever in the departure of guitarist Chris Walla (QRO solo album review), who provided the key counterpoint to Gibbard. Gibbard was already leaning into overdone lyrics on 2015’s Kintsugi (QRO review), and he just turned forty – the new record could have been self-indulgently myopic. Yet while Thank You for Today is definitely Gibbard-centric, it also is definitely another great Death Cab record.
Today starts with a bit of a curveball, the chilled and reverbed single “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, which Death Cab thankfully pull off, and also thankfully it doesn’t set the tone of the record. Instead, there’s the group’s hallmarks, such as the effortless sweet/sad “Summer Years” and touching goodbye “You Moved Away”, the tragic press of “Northern Lights” and killer DCC single “Gold Rush”. Today is notable for hitting almost entirely down notes, but doesn’t feel one-note thanks to Gibbard & the band’s skill.
Critics will likely pounce on Thank You for Today for not having the width and breadth of previous Death Cab for Cutie records, but once Chris Walla left, they were going to do that no matter what the band put out. Gibbard can inwardly gaze a little too much (there will be intense debate over who he’s singing about on closer “60 & Punk”), but that’s to be expected. And at this point, another lovely Death Cab record kind of is to be expected.