Tag Archives: Death Cab For Cutie

Did Garden State & The OC Cause The Indie Rock Explosion?

A while back, I wrote about Death Cab For Cutie and how they helped usher in the indie-rock explosion of the mid-to-late 200os. By the early 2000s indie rock was moving towards a more sincere and emotional viewpoint than the cynicism and irony of 90s indie icons such as Pavement. Death Cab was a prime example of this, even if Ben Gibbard’s sweet melodies sugarcoated his bitterness and melancholy outlook on life. The Shins were another group who eschewed irony and the noise of their indie forefathers, instead of opting for a soft rock-pop sound reminiscent of The Beach Boys.

For a good few years, this change in style went largely un-noticed. With their arena-ready anthems, Coldplay seemed to be the only band with a more sensitive outlook to be played on the radio. Mainstream interest seemed to focus on the last remnants of nu-metal, post-grunge and the garage rock revival.

The indie-rock explosion of the 2000s wasn’t ushered in by a defining album the way that Nirvana’s Nevermind had for 90s rock. Instead, it was through film and television most notably the soundtrack for Garden State and guest appearances by indie bands on The O.C.  In Garden State, Natalie Portman’s Sam declares that The Shins will “change your life”.  In retrospect (and even back then) her statement seemed a bit like hyperbole. The Shins weren’t wholly original to be life changing, but their inward gaze combined with their sincere sensibility perfectly fit Zach Braff’s tale of confused 20-somethings in the 2000s.

With the exception of Coldplay and the Simon & Garfunkel inclusion (a nod to The Graduate) all of the artists on the soundtrack had a limited audience. Even 70s singer-songwriter Nick Drake (who went largely unnoticed during his short lifetime) was given wider exposure as a result of being included on the album. The album’s most memorable track is probably Iron & Wine’s cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” which was also included in a famous M&M’s commercial that came out around the same time.

Whether audiences truly related to the music on its own or solely based by Braff’s brilliant use of it throughout Garden State can be debated. But there’s no denying that either way a chord had been struck with audiences, or the album has since gone gold. Braff would receive a Grammy for the soundtrack in 2005, making him probably the first person to ever receive a Grammy for making what was essentially a mix-tape.

The OC probably had a wider effect on indie rock. I know several people who claimed that they only watched the show to see (or hear) what new music would be on the show from week to week. Death Cab For Cutie, The Killers, Bloc Party, Feist, Franz Ferdinand, Rooney, The New Pornographers, and Phoenix and countless others were all featured on the show – some multiple times. Since the show was a huge hit for Fox, these artists achieved recognition that would otherwise not have been available to them.

2005 was probably the year that indie-rock truly explored. The Killers weren’t exactly indie-rock, but they had an indie sound and with the help of “Mr. Brightside” they seemed to be everywhere that year. The labels noticing a trend that could be marketable, signed Death Cab For Cutie and the band released their major-label debut Plans that fall which peaked at number 4 on the Billboard charts. The band was also nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for “Best Alternative Album”.  While it was certainly “alternative” to what was taking place on the radio, indie rock was beginning to prove itself to the masses.

Naturally, there was a cultural shift. In spite of (or perhaps as a result) this exposure, “indie” styled bands would soon find their albums being sold at places such as Starbucks which previously only seemed to sell albums by non-threatening classic rock artists and compilations. You know something has changed when 30-something mothers ask you at Starbucks if you’re selling the new Shins album. (True story.)

So what does all this mean? A few weeks back, I argued that the world would never see a world wide life-altering album like Nirvana’s Nevermind. I still stand by that point. Single albums don’t seem to capture the world’s attention like they used, but if nothing else the Garden State soundtrack and the OC prove that if great music is given its due, people will pay attention.

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What’s Your Favorite Album Of The Year So Far?

Since it’s now June and we are officially about half-way through 2011, I’d thought I’d take a look at some of the albums that have been released so far.  For me, so far the best album is a tie between Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues and My Morning Jacket’s Circuital.  What do you think?  Any good ones I missed?  (And I’m not counting Gaga just for the record.)

 

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The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade (Full List)

This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.

1.) The White Stripes

2.) Kanye West

3.) Jay-Z

4.) Britney Spears

5.) Danger Mouse

6.) The Strokes

7.) Radiohead

8.) Lil Wayne

9.) Green Day

10.) Death Cab For Cutie

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The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 10. – Death Cab For Cutie

I first heard of Death Cab For Cutie sometime in 2003, sometime before the infamous Seth Cohen Starter Pack episode of the OC.   One of my friends in my poetry class next to me, who knew that I liked music, asked me if I heard of them.  “No,” I told her, thinking that Death Cab For Cutie was such an odd name for a a band.  She told me to listen to them, which I did, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.  I wasn’t too into the sensitive rock that they excel in at the time.  I was too into the “angry young man years” of Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan to really give Death Cab much of a chance.

For a while, I kind of forgot about them.  Then somewhere along the line, tons of people I know started talking about them.  This was probably due to their inclusion on episodes of The OC.  I had heard of The OC, but it wasn’t on my radar.  “Why would a band want to sell out and include themselves on a TV show?”, I wondered.  My thought was that they were obviously a bunch of sell-outs.  This thought is of course, not really well constructed.

Back to Dylan and Costello for a moment.  Both of these artists, represent an aura of non-compromise.  They do what they want, consequences by damned. Costello, famously playing “Radio Radio” on Saturday Night Live when the producers told him not to.  Dylan, of course, for going electric when he was the hero of folk-music.  Sure they sold records, and have a wide audience, but “selling out” wasn’t something they would do.  I for one, held onto this very idea for a long time.  (Ironically, around this time Bob Dylan was appearing in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, but I deemed it too weird, and surreal to be considered “selling out”.  Really, I just didn’t want to admit that even my hero could do something like that.)

But for bands in the early 2000s, the music business was different.  The record companies were fledging, and there had to be a new way for artists to get exposed.  While it may seem commonplace today, for artists songs to be used on Glee, in 2003 having your songs on shows like The OC was uncharted territory.  Especially for respectable bands, but Death Cab along with Bright Eyes seized the moment, and it worked.  Suddenly people started talking about Death Cab all the time.  Their sensitive, melodic  songwriting, and Ben Gibbard‘s soft voice ushered in a new wave of indie-rock, where it was okay to emotional without being angry.  Death Cab represented a true alternative to radio rock which seemed to be dominated by big, dumb rock songs.  They also weren’t “cool” like The Strokes, or guitar-heavy like The White Stripes.  Death Cab was more interested in writing songs and telling stories that people could relate to.

When you think of “indie rock”, it’s hard not to think of Death-Cab.  Earlier incarnations of indie rock mostly included punk, hard-core, riot girl, and weird experimental post-punk bands. But Death Cab represented a new era of “indie rock”, and almost every indie band that came out after (or around the same time) – from Modest Mouse to Vampire Weekend – owe them a huge debt.  Let’s also not forget Death Cab also became a band that teenage girls, and women in college could relate to, something which rock radio seemed to be lacking.

When Death Cab signed to Atlantic in 2004, it was a major move.  True, Modest Mouse was among the first of the “new indie” bands to sign to a major in 2000, but when Death Cab signed people were left wondering if they would alter their sound for the masses.  But like R.E.M., two decades earlier who had also put out several albums on an indie label before signing to a major label, Death Cab put out Plans in 2005 , an album that didn’t compromise their sound, but built upon the foundation they already had as evident on such songs as “Crooked Teeth“, and “Souls Meets Body”.

Even though they’ve never really had a “hit”, Death Cab For Cutie remains extremely popular in part because the world came to them.  Perhaps in their own way, maybe they are a bit like Dylan and Costello.

Edit: Here’s the full list of The Ten Most Important Artists

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A Look Back At Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”

I recently saw that Arcade Fire is going to be playing Merriweather Post Pavilion this August promoting their new album The Suburbs. As long as it doesn’t sell out, I will definitely be going  – plus you all know how I feel about Merriweather. Arcade Fire’s Funeral for me, is one of the defining albums of the 2000’s.  A lot of people might suggest that Death Cab For Cutie bought indie rock to the mainstream, but Arcade Fire really opened up the possibilities of what indie rock could do in the new century.  Funeral retains an indie mindset, but has the anthemic qualities of U2, Wyn Butler sings in style similar to David Bowie, yet it sounds completely original.  And 6 years after its initial release, it hasn’t lost any of its power that made it a wonderful listen the first time I heard it.

Like many people who attended U2’s Vertigo Tour in 2005, I wondered what the hell was that song that played as the band walked on the stage?  (If you went to any of those shows, you know what I’m talking about.)  It was the sound of a dozen voices singing in chant-like unison, with a simple guitar riff played underneath.  “Wake Up” is so big, ambitious, and simple, and it’s a song that has always seemed to exist.  After I found out the name of the song, I quickly went out and bought Funeral.  (Arcade Fire had been on my radar for a while, and though Funeral received fantastic reviews, I wasn’t sure about the title.)

Like many who have gone out and bought albums based on one single-song, I was afraid Funeral would be a bust.  Instead, I found an album that had a theme of loss yet retained an optimism.  For a debut album, Funeral also sounds like the third or fourth album by a band – it’s a very mature.  “Neighborhood #1” and “Rebellion (Lies)” both start off slow, but  reach a Spector-ish wall-of-sound by the end of the song.  Both songs gradually grow louder – that is it hard to pinpoint exactly when exactly what seems to be a ballad turns into a monster of a song. .  “Wake Up” might have been the song that got me into Arcade Fire, but “Rebellion” is the true masterpiece of the album.   I’m not sure if the song has a traditional verse-chorus structure. In fact its 5 minutes seem to build around Wynn singing, “everytime you close your eyes,” constrasted by Regine’s repeating, lies, lies” in the background.  But like Bowie’s “Heroes”, it’s the tension and the build-up that gives the song its ultimate pay-off.

By the time Neon Bible came out a few years later, I should have known better than to expect something as good as Funeral. Very few artists are able to create back-to-back masterpieces (and yes, I count Funeral as one of rock’s masterpieces).  But Neon Bible was not only disappointing because it wasn’t Funeral, but also because it seemed unmemorable, pretentious, and most offensively of all – bland. Arcade Fire to me, is many things but bland is not one of them.  I’m looking forward to The Suburbs, and hope Arcade Fire will bring out another masterpiece.

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