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DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE Despite themes, dark lyrics, this music is far from grave


Published: Thu, September 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


The group's latest CD, 'Plans,' was released this week.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
On the new album from Death Cab for Cutie, leader Ben Gibbard sings about sitting in a urine-stained intensive care unit, surrounded by ghostly vending machines, old magazines and death.
"Nervous pacers bracing for bad news/Then the nurse comes around and everyone will lift their heads," Gibbard sings. "Then, I'm thinking of what Sarah said, 'Love is watching someone die."'
So detailed and unflinching a scenario -- relieved by a heartening twist -- epitomizes Gibbard's writing style. Despite their sometimes unpretty truths, Gibbard's songs have drawn hundreds of thousands of fans.
Since the late '90s, Death Cab has matched fluid rock melodies and open-hearted vocals to Gibbard's well-chosen words.
"Music is always the most important element in a song," he says. "But to make the lyrics an afterthought would be a bummer. I want you to know exactly where a song is taking place, who it's about and what happens."
With this approach, Death Cab has joined bands like Bright Eyes and the Decemberists in a valiant effort to bring back the power of the word in rock.
Right now, Death Cab stands poised to bring that mission to many more listeners.The group released its first major-label work, "Plans," on Atlantic Records this week. It follows up four indie releases on the Seattle-based indie imprint Barsuk.
Relentless touring, as well as regular plugs on the prime-time youth soap opera "The O.C.," has helped Death Cab sell in six figures in the past few years. The band's last CD, "Transatlanticism," moved more than 330,000 units, and a side project fronted by Gibbard called the Postal Service pushed more than 500,000 copies of the band's one-off CD "Give Up."
Death Cab's new work finds Gibbard at both an emotional and career crossroads. Now 29, and in his first satisfying relationship, Gibbard says he has "reached an age where that feeling of invincibility is gone and you end up being an adult in a more conventional sense."
For Gibbard, this has inspired more writing about aging and demise. In the song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," lovers speak of their deaths and vow to "hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms."
In "Brothers on a Hotel Bed," the narrator tells a romantic partner, "You may tire of me as our December sun is setting/I'm no longer who I used to be."
Despite the "Death" part of the band's name, its origin is far from grave. Pop fanatics will recall it as the title of a song performed by the whimsical Bonzo Dog Band in the Beatles' '60s TV special "Magical Mystery Tour."
"I was on a huge Beatles kick at the time," Gibbard says. "But if I knew how many times I would have to explain the name, I would have chosen something more obvious."


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