Death Cab for Cutie

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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l. to r.: Walla, Gibbard, Harmer, McGerr

If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the "No"s on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks
I'll follow you into the dark

Death Cab for Cutie are an indie rock band from Bellingham, Washington, formed in 1997 as a solo project of Face of the Band Ben Gibbard, a twenty-something science graduate who had previously been in other local bands such as Pinwheel and ¡All-Time Quarterback!. By 1998, Gibbard had recruited several band mates from his previous bands, most notably The Revolutionary Hydra, into a full-fledged band. Except for two drummer changes, the lineup has stayed constant ever since.

Already well known in the Seattle area, Death Cab's breakout hit was their 2003 album Transatlanticism, which saw exposure in television shows such as The OC (in which it forms part of Seth Cohen's indie starter pack) and Six Feet Under. The attention prompted them to move from Barsuk Records, which had accommodated Gibbard and company for the past decade, to Atlantic Records. Since their move to Atlantic, they have steadily become more popular, with their following albums Plans and Narrow Stairs becoming increasingly popular and well selling.

The band has four members:

  • Ben Gibbard: vocals, guitar, and piano
  • Chris Walla: guitar, piano, and producer
  • Nick Harmer: bass guitar
  • Jason McGerr: drums

...and have released seven albums and three [EPs] of note.

  • You Can Play These Songs With Chords (demo 1997, re-release 2002)
  • Something About Airplanes (1998)
  • We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (2000)
    • The Forbidden Love EP (2000)
  • The Photo Album (2001)
    • The Stability EP (2002)
  • Transatlanticism (2003)
  • Plans (2005)
  • Narrow Stairs (2008)
    • The Open Door EP (2009)
  • Codes And Keys (2011)

The other members continue to freelance elsewhere in their spare time, launching side projects wherever they see fit: most notably, Gibbard teamed up with electronica musician Jimmy Tamborello (a.k.a. Dntel) to form The Postal Service, and Walla is a well-known record producer for other bands such as Tegan and Sara, The Decemberists and The Thermals. Gibbard is also married to actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, though they recently announced their separation.

Death Cab for Cutie provides examples of the following tropes:

...when I stumbled upon pictures I'd tried to forget, and that's how this i-dea was drilled into my head.

There's a saltwater film on the jar of your ashes; I threw them to sea,
but a gust blew them backwards and the sting in my eyes
that you then inflicted was par for the course just as when you were living.

  • Black Sheep Hit: "I Will Follow You Into the Dark".
  • Concept Album: We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes is considered by most fans to be a disguised example, at least for the first eight songs, which chronicle a relationship starting with a one night stand and ending with the guy crashing the girl's wedding to another guy. It's disputed whether the last two songs fit into the narrative or not.
    • The Open Door EP is about commitment issues.
  • Completely Missing the Point: The aforementioned "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" is bandied about as the typical love song, and is thrown around as such by people who come across it randomly. Even in professional works, for example, Grey's Anatomy, who used it for an episode title in the brain-tumour-Denny arc, despite the actual existence and knowledge of the afterlife in the show. Scrubs averted it by using it as an exit song for an episode about what happens when we die.
    • To be fair, it is a love song. The problem is that it's kind of like Romeo and Juliet, in that using/describing it as such tends to undersell its depth and nuance.
  • Cover Version: Ben Gibbard's solo project ¡All-Time Quarterback! covered The Magnetic Fields' "Why I Cry".
  • Emo Kid: Subverted, much to the surprise to some new listeners of the band. With a name like that and Ben Gibbard's look, you'd expect him to be screaming about how life is unfair. In fact, quite a lot of Death Cab's songs are melancholy ballads.
  • Epic Rocking: "I Will Possess Your Heart" (about 8 1/2 minutes) and "Transatlanticism" (nearly 8 minutes).
    • The B-side "Stability"—actually an alternate version of the album track "Stable Song"—crosses the twelve-minute mark.
    • "We Looked Like Giants" can stretch to as long as ten minutes live, while versions of "Scientist Studies" and "Blacking Out the Friction" can reach nine. [1]
  • Fading Into the Next Song: The trio of "Tiny Vessels," "Transatlanticism," and "Passenger Seat" on Transatlanticism
    • Almost every song on the album Transatlanticism, if you turn up the volume and listen closely.
  • Flatline: Heavily implied in "What Sarah Said."

Each descending peak on the LCD
took you a little farther away from me

It's no stretch to say that you were not quite a father
But a donor of seeds to a poor single mother

  • Last-Note Nightmare:
    • "Marching Bands of Manhattan" ends with a solitary piano key. Also, "Pity and Fear" could be considered an example; the guitar seems to be building toward a crescendo and then suddenly stops dead. Word of God says that this happened when the recorder they were using to record the song broke, and they liked the effect it created better than the original end.
    • "Scientist Studies". Dear God.
  • Live Episode: In what's possibly the first Music Video example, the band's video for "You Are A Tourist" aired live in a single take, over the internet on April 5, 2011.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Ben is the master of this trope:
    • How about "No Sunlight", a beach-pop tune about the loss of innocence?
    • Or "The Sound of Settling", which is a indie-pop Crowd Song about crippling shyness?
    • Or "We Will Become Silhouettes" (from the Postal Service album Give Up), a cheery ditty about nuclear holocaust?
    • "You Can Do Better Than Me" sounds fairly upbeat and cheery, until you realize that the lyrics are about about someone who feels as though their relationship is falling apart, but their lack of self-esteem means that they're willing to cling to the relationship.
    • And now from Codes and Keys, we have "Underneath the Sycamore", an upbeat tune that begins with the character in the song dying in a terrible car crash! The song goes on to say that that the character finds their peace "underneath the sycamore" aka six feet under in a graveyard. Cheery!
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Subverted to hell and back in "Styrofoam Plates", a rant by a young man, raised by a poor single mother, who refuses to talk nice about his dead father just because he's dead.
  • New Sound Album: Early interviews claim that Codes And Keys will fit the trope.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Many songs, such as "Transatlanticism", "Title Track", "Lightness", "President of What?", "No Joy in Mudville", "Expo 86", "Grapevine Fires", etc.
  • The Nothing After Death: The "Dark" in "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" refers to both to the nothing after death and not knowing what happens after death.
    • A more recent example would be St. Peter's Cathedral.

"... when our hearts stop ticking, this is the end, there's nothing past this."

In the morning, I fled
left a note and it read
"Someday, you will be loved"

Crashing through the parlour doors,
What was your first reaction?
Screaming, drunk, disorderly, I'll tell you mine.

  1. The last case is only a partial example, though, as it generally segues into a cover of "All is Full of Love" in the second half.