Diving into the very best Death Cab for Cutie songs, from their breakout record breakout 'Transatlanticism' and beyond.
Best band in the world? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Fleetwood Mac are all common answers – and they are all the wrong answers. Sorry. The correct answer is Death Cab for Cutie and I needn’t remind you that the quantifiable proof lies in the four times their songs were played on The O.C. during the band’s meteoric rise to indie-wave fame in the early 2000’s.
It’s not funny and I’m dead serious. Death Cab for Cutie are the best band in the world. Their latest album Asphalt Meadows was a reminder that they still have the capacity, 20 years on from their breakout Transatlanticism, to capture and summarize the kind of feelings that made them so popular amongst listeners in the first place: defining, left-field depictions of love, loneliness, heartbreak, resignation, determination and social critique.
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Here are their 10 best songs from worst best to best best. This is not an opinion piece.
10. Long Division
I calculated this song to come in at 164 bpm and that’s fast for Death Cab. Which is almost a shame because they sound wonderful at this relatively unusual pace. Anyway, this song is about a tumultuous Ben Gibbard relationship analogised into high school math equations. It’s fast, captivating and in many ways the response from the call of the slow burning “I Will Possess Your Heart” at the beginning of the fantastic record Narrow Stairs. Shoutout Narrow Stairs.
9. Roman Candles
The single from new record Asphalt Meadows. It’s really cool. Actually, I’ve never heard a song like it before. Gated, overdriven saw-like synthesizers feel apocalyptic until they’re replaced momentarily by a gentle guitar line. And you say to yourself: ‘ah, there it is.’ There’s a deep 808 buried in there underlying the chaotic arrangement. It’s a beautiful, self aware track that builds to an explosive end. Thank you Death Cab for Cutie.
This track comes from early album We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes which, as the title suggests, alludes to the very dry and very subtle social commentary Gibbard loves to sprinkle throughout his songwriting. I love this particular song because you can almost hear the iconic Death Cab sound that would ultimately render them the greatest band in the world. But it’s the youthful, undercooked production of this song and this record that make it great to listen to in its own right. It’s got highways, movement, relationships and disillusionment with the world around you.
7. A Lack of Color
This is the album closer to the insurmountable Transatlanticism. Stop what you’re doing and listen to this song, right now. The immediacy is what this track is all about, man. Roadside/beachside ambience is mixed loud in this track. ‘…and all the girls in all the girly magazines can’t make me feel any less alone.’ Great songwriting. Check. Harmonically interesting arrangement. Check. It will make you cry, if you let it.
6. Bend to Squares
The first song from the first album. The track that started it all. To my ears, the emo-wave that is (kind of?) resurging still sounds a lot like this track from 1997. As far as an independent cassette release goes, this was modern as hell for its time.
5. I Will Possess Your Heart
What makes this the 5th best Death Cab for Cutie song of all time and by extension the 5th best song in the universe is that with lead single “I Will Possess Your Heart” from the record Narrow Stairs Gibbard broke away from the tropes and imagery that granted him meteoric success. Gone was the solemn, longing romantic of Transatlanticism and Plans, and in was a Gibbard that wrote about dark, outside figures and characters on the fringes.This song is great because it highlights everything that makes this band tick. Locked rhythm section, interesting songwriting and fantastic guitar work atop dynamic and subtly complex arrangements.
4. Passenger Seat
This track takes 4th spot because it’s always been my objective personal favorite. There’s no deeper meaning with this one, no metaphors or hidden wordplay. It’s just a song about caring for, and loving another person. I love the image of looking over at a sleeping passenger on a long, dark highway. Hell yeah.
3. Your Heart Is an Empty Room
What track could possibly come after Death Cab’s best ever track? It’s this one. It’s warm, inviting and.. dare I say.. hopeful. The title of this track is foreboding, but it’s the way Gibbard subverts the meaning into something beautiful that renders this a classic.
If you’re a Death Cab fan you knew this was coming. And you know what comes next to land number 1. It’s just the way it is. Some things in life are irrefutable and this is one of them. I hate that it’s like this. Wait, hold on.
There we go. They’re equal in beauty anyway. Death Cab for Cutie forever!
1. I Will Follow You Into The Dark
It’s funny to write about a song that shapes you and I do think this song has shaped me perhaps more than I’d like to previously admit. I feel lucky to have really felt like this track soundtracked my life at a point. What I can say about this song is that I really do love it and I’m grateful for having heard it at all. Life is often a complex and complicated and beautiful thing. “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” allows you to get a little closer to a more whole understanding of the darker shades of life and love and perhaps even offer them a welcoming embrace. In many ways, most Death Cab songs try to do this, but it’s the solitude of Gibbard and his guitar on this track that make it one of a kind. These are songs borne of love, and I love Death Cab for Cutie.
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