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Death Cab For Cutie, Charly Bliss

  • Sylvee 25 South Livingston Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

The once-great indie-pop band went astray a long time ago. Info/tix

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There was a moment in 2004 when the Bellingham, Washington-founded Death Cab For Cutie seemed invincible. Vocalist-guitarist Ben Gibbard's lovelorn, electro-pop side project with Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello, The Postal Service, had become viral licensing fodder and Death Cab For Cutie's fourth album, 2003's Transatlanticism, had pushed the indie-pop outfit from small clubs to huge rooms. Gibbard's over-enunciated croon could be heard in virtually every business with a Muzak contract and Death Cab began getting name-dropped on Fox night-soap The O.C.

By the time Death Cab's major-label debut, Plans, arrived in 2005, the band had become a pale caricature of itself. The cleverly dissonant chord progressions of tunes like "A Movie Script Ending"  and "We Laugh Indoors," from 2001's The Photo Album, had been streamlined into formulaic grandiosity on Plans tunes like "Soul Meets Body" and "I Will Follow You Into The Dark." Gibbard's once biting and personal lyrics—once so affecting in the brutal assessment of his absentee father on "Styrofoam Plates" and his declaration of disdain for Los Angeles in "Why You'd Want To Live Here"—felt like they'd been softened and redesigned to emotionally manipulate the lowest common denominator. And while former guitarist Chris Walla's production sounded as warm and spacious as ever (Walla has engineered the bulk of Death Cab For Cutie's albums), the music itself just felt a lot less believable.

Well, it's been 13 years since Plans arrived and a lot has happened. Gibbard married and divorced actress Zooey Deschanel, The Postal Service's Give Up—admittedly an infectious and potent break-up album—was ruthlessly milked for all of its licensing potential, and Walla left Death Cab band in 2014. "Gold Rush," the lead single from Death Cab's new album Thank You For Today (the band's first album without Walla at the production helm) gives us a sad glimpse at what we're left with. Between the downtempo fusion of flavorless trip-hop electronics, droning chords, and nasal vocal processing, "Gold Rush" ends up resembling a less imaginative, Diet Rite take on French space-rock outfit Air. It's pretty sad, because as Gibbard croons repeatedly at the end of "Gold Rush," "It didn't used to be this way." —Joel Shanahan

Earlier Event: October 3
Skate Kitchen
Later Event: October 4
Blue Velvet (free)