Death Cab For Cutie singer Ben Gibbard would have to commercially release a blank CD-R for me dislike one of his albums. I come to Former Lives with that bias out in the open. Like many metabolically challenged, near-sighted, brown-haired white boys who like to talk about their feelings, I will always identify with him.
Gibbard has stamped his passport at a variety of musical waystations over the years. Last year’s Codes and Keys was yet another gradual step away from the emo rock that made Death Cab’s Transatlanticism a favorite. His collaboration with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, One Fast Move or I’m Gone, was a Kerouac-inspired slice of indie country. The Postal Service’s classic Give Up, recently certified platinum, is a whole ‘nother ballpark, of course. It’s fitting that Gibbard’s first solo full-length would be a bit of musical Chex mix.
Truly, there’s a Ben Gibbard for everyone on Former Lives. The deathiest, cabbiest track on the album, “Bigger Than Love,” features Aimee Mann. That should preclude it from resembling a Death Cab song, but it’s a brave new world we live in. It’s catchy like the flu.
“Teardrop Windows” and “Lily” appeal to folkier impulses, with “Lily” carrying the thread of narrative, character-based songs that Gibbard does well (see also: Narrow Stairs’ “Cath”).
“Oh Woe” contains the million dollar line “It’s been a basement of a year” and hits all the right relatable, melancholic buttons. On the more eclectic side of things, “Something’s Rattling…” would be right at home during 99-cent enchilada night at Jalapeño Tree, with its staccato trumpets and strumming strings. At the front of the album, “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby” is an a capella trip to the English countryside. You can hear ewes in the background.
Former Lives feels uniquely personal; not only are the lyrics overflowing with naked sentiment and moving storytelling, but you get the sense that these are just the songs that Ben Gibbard wanted to make for fun. For fans, it’s like being in a very introspective candy store.
(3) “Teardrop Windows”
(4) “Bigger Than Love”
(8) “Oh, Woe”