Narrow Stairs, Death Cab's second album for Atlantic and sixth proper LP overall, is one of the darkest and most muscular in the band's discography, but they're still aiming for the same place: your heart. It's an album about growing and changing and becoming resigned to the fact that you'll never be truly content-- not even if you quit that day job, achieve your rock'n'roll dreams, and find yourself in a loving marriage. At times, the maturation feels forced; the more adventurous moments here are experimental only for such a high-profile group, and they don't play to Gibbard's sentimental, word-weighing strengths.
With the release of 2008’s Narrow Stairs DCFC flips the dial away from sugar pop, away from mainstream melodies, but unfortunately still fails to deliver a product that could be considered brilliant. You wouldn’t know that from the start of the album as the nearly 14-minute super-jam “Bixby Canyon Bridge”/“I Will Possess Your Heart” provides a harder, darker edge to anything that you’ve heard from Death Cab so far. Gibbard chants “you can’t see a dream” over swirling distortion that finally resolves into a screaming finale that closes with the whispered “No closer to any kind of truth/as I assume was the case with you.” This song provides the context for the pregnant introduction to “I Will Possess Your Heart” that puzzled/frustrated so many early listeners. You need the intro to recover from the finale and by the time that the song builds back up, you’re ready for another trip.
Life in the public eye isn't necessarily easy for a former indie darling, as proved by the latest grade cards (6 and 6.8 out of 10). But will that stop me from grabbing Narrow Stairs? Absolutely not. I think "sentimental, word-weighing strengths" (Pitchfork) is the best encapsulation of Ben Gibbard's abilities I've come across, and the band has that rare knack for creating melodies that are catchy/haunting.