Benjamin Gibbard | Former Lives

Barsuk Records (2012)
By RYAN REED  |  October 9, 2012
3.0 3.0 Stars

"It's been a basement of a year," Ben Gibbard sings over a perky two-chord strum on the saccharine "Oh, Woe." It's hard not to take him literally. The songs on Former Lives, the Death Cab for Cutie frontman's solo debut, were written on the side throughout his main band's tenure, but the album's collective spirit seems inspired by current events — namely Gibbard's heavily publicized breakup with indie heartthrob Zooey Deschanel. Not that heartbreak is a new subject for Gibbard, the indie-pop king of melancholy. But the themes throughout Former Lives are especially bleak. These characters are simultaneously trapped and transient: haunted by nightmares, lacking sleep, drifting through life aimlessly. Nonetheless, even if Former Lives is lyrically downbeat, its music is consistently vibrant, filled with some of Gibbard's most infectious melodies in years. "Dream Song" is a strummy toe-tapper built on a school-yard hook and a simple four-chord guitar progression: it's so laughably simple, it shouldn't work — but as a testament to Gibbard's reliable craftsmanship, it's a quiet anthem. Yes, the best songs here (like "Bigger Than Love," an Aimee Mann-assisted avalanche of adorable harmonies) would have, in another life, made for some top-shelf Death Cab. At times it's tough not to wish for some of Jason McGerr's dense rhythmic flair or a few of Chris Walla's artful overdubs. Then again, it's hard to imagine the Death Cab boys adding their propulsive two cents to the horn-fueled Mariachi waltz "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)" or the pedal-steel-driven, blue-sky country-pop gem "Broken Yolk in Western Sky." Gibbard's carving out new musical territory on Former Lives, while amplifying the broken heart of what makes his sound so wonderful. Regardless of context, Gibbard's Gibbard-isms have never sounded so Gibbard-y.
  Topics: CD Reviews , Music, simple, frontman,  More more >
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