To say Ben Gibbard dominates his band, Death Cab for Cutie, would be an understatement. He is the band. It is his voice that defines their sound and his downheartedly earnest lyrics that earned them their fans. Gibbard’s debut solo record, “Former Lives,” isn’t the first time he’s worked without the rest of Death Cab, but it deserves to be given a chance.
The record starts out slowly, with declarative tracks like “Dream Song,” which doesn’t sound very different from any of the well-produced indie-pop-hop Death Cab has done. This is slightly disappointing, as “Dream Song” sounds like an overdone version of Open Door’s “I Was Once a Loyal Lover” but with half of the heart.
The lead single, “Teardrop Windows,” does manage to invoke the folk-country music structure that Death Cab would never make. Unfortunately, the diversion stops there and lyrically yields to the typical tearjerker material that follows it, like “Lily” and “Bigger than Love.” The first vaguely memorable cut finally comes with “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke),” which utilizes horns, catchy guitar picking and harmonized choruses to sound something like Bon Iver would write, minus any folksy-beard emoting.
“Lady Adelaide,” throws in a few interesting studio-produced touches, but ultimately proves to be an unsuccessful experiment. The more memorable “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” brings in a grand-guitar psychedelic sleaze. Overall, the stories sound nice and are produced with as much zeal as anything Gibbard has done post-“Plans.”
The sounds are nothing new — anyone who hopes for something on the level of Gibbard’s former band The Postal Service will be disappointed — and the most novel thing about “Former Lives” lies in the songwriting. Gibbard chooses to tell more defined stories, even if half of them are in a similar style to the band Mewithoutyou’s insomnia style narratives. This is a world away from the ambiguous pining introspection that makes many Death Cab songs feel so typical. Maybe Gibbard is just dumping surplus songs to keep his name alive and busying himself with the next Death Cab album. It is a pity he thought these songs deserved to be dumped.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Andrew Karpan is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.
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