January 27, 2015

Scrolling Headlines:

Panda Bear remains confident, even in the face of ‘The Grim Reaper’ -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I want to be a teacher -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams wrap up third-place finishes at Dartmouth Invitational -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

UMass’ College of Education to train Pakistani higher education administrators -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hao Luong shines for UMass men’s swimming and diving on Senior Day, prepares for end of college career -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Police Log: Friday, Jan. 23, 2015 to Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rachel Hilliard, Heather MacLean highlight solid performance from UMass women’s track and field -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hockey East: Eichel’s overtime goal pushes Boston University past Vermont -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Albums to look forward to in 2015 -

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

UMass closes ahead of inclement weather -

Monday, January 26, 2015

Paranormal Research Society seeks to uncover the truth about the supernatural -

Monday, January 26, 2015

UMass tops Merrimack 4-1 to cap off successful weekend series -

Monday, January 26, 2015

‘Broad City’s’ second season off to a wickedly funny start -

Monday, January 26, 2015

Writers respond to State of the Union address -

Monday, January 26, 2015

St. Bonaventure earns tight victory, VCU clinches 11th straight win in Atlantic 10 men’s basketball action -

Monday, January 26, 2015

An open letter to the people who were kind when I was struggling -

Monday, January 26, 2015

UMass club hockey salvages weekend with tie against NYU on Saturday -

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Winter TCA’s announce bevy of show returns and new releases -

Monday, January 26, 2015

Brilliant online film archives for cinema lovers -

Monday, January 26, 2015

UMass men’s and women’s track and field teams see mixed results in Joe Donahue Indoor Games -

Monday, January 26, 2015

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Review of Ben Gibbard’s “Former Lives”

Jeremy M Farmer/Flickr

Indie rock’s golden child Ben Gibbard has released his first proper solo album, titled “Former Lives.” After 15 years of repackaging the same sound through a series of strikingly similar Death Cab for Cutie albums, Gibbard is finally branching out. “Former Lives” proves that the melancholy singer is more than just a one trick pony.

The album is a high-quality collection of poppy emo tracks. Though this may not sound like anything new for Gibbard, “Former Lives” is truly the most interesting thing to come out of his musical career in nearly a decade.

Gibbard’s sound as a solo artist is not hugely different from Death Cab’s. In fact, he could have easily released “Former Lives” under his band’s name instead of his own. Still, the record illuminates an evolution in Gibbard’s songwriting – and Gibbard has not made this kind of progress on any album since Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transantlanticism.”

One thing made clear by “Former Lives” is the amount of influence Gibbard has absorbed from some early pioneers of emo music. Many of the songs on “Former Lives” seem to borrow elements from the late Elliott Smith, whose former collaborator Aaron Espinoza helped produce the album. Smith’s ghost emerges right away on tracks like “Dream Song” and “Lily,” due mostly to Gibbard’s similar guitar style.

Infectiously catchy pop melodies carry listeners through tracks like “Teardrop Windows” and “Oh, Woe” – both songs that are reminiscent of new-wave artists like The Smiths. Gibbard’s vocal melodies are simultaneously bright and somber, both alive and dead. Morrissey himself would be proud.

Not every track on “Former Lives” helps Gibbard break new ground, however. “Bigger Than Love,” which features guest vocals from Aimee Mann, could be seamlessly transplanted to any recent Death Cab for Cutie release. The song is characterized by Gibbard’s classic dull, murky sound and coated with that signature brand of heartwarming sentimentality Death Cab fans know and love.

“Lady Adelaide” is another track on “Former Lives” that highly resembles past Death Cab releases. The guitar style is typical of Gibbard’s ballads, bearing some resemblance to songs like “A Lack of Color.” Fortunately, “Lady Adelaide” is not burdened by these similarities. Instead, the rich poetry and clever composition make this track a highlight of the album.

Unlike “Bigger Than Love” and “Lady Adelaide,” tracks like “Something’s Rattling” and “Broken Yoke in Western Sky” give Gibbard an opportunity to strongly diverge from what has become his typical sound. “Something’s Rattling” sways delicately, boldly walking on the outskirts of mariachi. “Broken Yoke” provides some country twang with an airy Hawaiian guitar. These new elements to Gibbard’s songwriting style are beautifully executed and wonderfully refreshing.

Sadly, “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” is a song so bland it could easily turn listeners off to what the rest of the album has to offer. The track is obnoxiously soothing and frustratingly intangible.  It is lucky that “Duncan” – arguably Gibbard’s worst song to date – was inconspicuously tucked away in the middle of the record, where it will be easily lost and inevitably forgotten.

Aside from the monstrosity that is “Duncan,” “Former Lives” is a substantial and refreshing release. Nearly every song on the album is persistently catchy, without falling into the superficiality that pervades so much of today’s popular music.

The record closes with a short ballad called “I’m Building a Fire.” Heavy white noise envelops the lo-fi recording, relinquishing some of Gibbard’s waning indie cred. Soft, sweeping guitar chords emerge from the static like a seed beginning to sprout. With any luck, “Former Lives” will represent the beginning of a bold new chapter in Ben Gibbard’s career as a songwriter.

Gibbard will perform at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville. on Nov. 4.

Chris Trubac can be reached at ctrubac@student.umass.edu.

 

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