Death Cab For Cutie — A PerspectivePosted: October 31, 2015
In all honesty, I am a bit hesitant to compose this posting. Although a fan of the group, I don’t want to gush with unbridled enthusiasm, nor pose as a bona fide professional music critic. This posting is an Eastern Orthodox priest’s perspective of a contemporary musical group – mostly focusing on lyrical content of their songs. There be will only a brief bio, and no musings about matters best left to gossip columnists.
When I speak of the band’s name, and comment that I truly enjoy their music, many are the raised eyebrows: He likes death metal? Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC) takes their name from the song, “Death Cab for Cutie” that appears in the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour as performed by the Bonzos — a shaky scene in a shaky movie. Actually, DCFC is to be categorized as alternative, or indie pop/rock band (no shredding required).
Being a Washingtonian, there is more than a bit of pride when I note they formed in Bellingham, Washington at Western Washington University. Core members until 2014 are Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Nick Harmer (bass), Jason McGerr (drums), and Chris Walla (guitars, producer, etc. — he left the group upon the completion of their latest release, Kintsugi). No more bio.
My perspective begins with a brief report of DCFC’s recent concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theater, October 3, 2015. My wife, daughter, one of her friends, and I were in attendance. In brief, I was thoroughly impressed by their musicianship. Throughout the concert their conduct was equally impressive – it is almost to be expected that a few “f-bombs” will be dropped by the band members. Not so here. None of the we-four in attendance could recall one foul word. In fact, I was surprised that few words were spoken by Gibbard: he let the music speak for them. My family (I had to stay home — ill) saw them in concert in Bend, Oregon shortly after the release of Codes and Keys in 2011. My wife, Janice, raved about their talent and quality of performance. Based upon this concert, I am in complete agreement. They seem to be as safe for a family concert outing as are U2 and Sir Paul McCartney.
I next move to a few of DCFC’s songs. Here I speak as a fan, and will gush just once. Let me begin with what is my favorite song, I mean my favorite song: “Stay Young Go Dancing.” It concludes Codes and Keys. The song is purely pop, but it is pop at its very best. The layering of guitars and orchestration is fabulous and lovely. This is one gorgeous song, and its video is a delight! It’s on my “have to learn to play on the guitar” list. Here is the video link — https://youtu.be/wFW2ZlyVXEw.
Not all their songs are of similar joyous vibe. The subject matter of many songs is thoughtful, and not so happy, but lyrically they are reflective, and gut-level honest. In contrast to, “Stay Young Go Dancing,” I give you “Cath” and its video — https://youtu.be/uY1ahFCYT5k.
Lyrical depth also is found in “Binary Sea,” the final track on this year’s release of Kintsugi. It gives a commentary about the stark realities thrown at us by social media — all too often posted without thought, and represent nothing more than digital vomit.
Oh Atlas could not understand
The world was so much smaller than
The one he used to hold before.
But the weight, it brought him to the floor.
As you watched him struggle to his feet
You took photos capturing his defeat
And messaged them to all your friends,
And we all laughed at his expense.
Other lyrics clearly reflect Gen-X’s and Millennials” secularism and struggle with faith — even the rejection of faith. Gibbard often reflects on death, and is where we see this position of materialism expressed. I first refer to “I Follow You into the Dark:”
Love of mine
Someday you will die
But I’ll be close behind.
I’ll follow you into the dark.
No blinding light, or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped to tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark.
He reflects the secular, materialist view. This doubt and skepticism are also declared in Codes and Keys’ “St. Peter’s Cathedral:”
St Peter’s Cathedral built of granite but ever fearful of the answer
When the candle in the tunnel is flickering in sputters and fading faster
It’s only then that you will know what lies above or down below.
Or if these fictions only prove how much you’ve really got to lose.
At St. Peter’s Cathedral there is stained glass, there’s a steeple that is reaching
Up towards the heavens such ambition never failing to amaze me
It’s either quite a master plan or just chemicals that help us understand
That when our hearts stop ticking this is the end
There’s nothing past this.
Critique is offered to the lyrics. Gibbard is apparently astonished at the “ambition” (substitute confidence) of the faith of the Church, yet I am equally astonished at Gibbard’s own confidence (i.e. faith) in his materialist worldview. To speak against the faith statements of Christianity, his only counters are statements of his own “faith” and “creed”. Does he see this?
I am generally uninterested in apologetics that use argumentative proofs for or against faith. I am interested in how faith lives, and expresses itself — whether Christian faith, or the “faith” of secularism. So, to prove either faith — it must be lived. I love this axiom: to prove God is to live God. In other words, to encounter, or prove, God in one’s life one must live as God would have us live. To encounter and know God one must worship, pray, live within the sacramental life, and walk the walk of faith living as Christ and the Church would have us live. The saints prove God — many had God’s miracles worked through them. When the contemporaries of the saints saw their lives, they saw exemplars of Christian faith. They saw Christ in their midst by observing the saints’ holy lives. No geological core analysis, chemical analysis, or microscope could materially prove the existence of God — or disprove God’s existence. God’s existence is proved by authentic lives of faith.
Regarding such songs as “St. Peter’s Cathedral” by DCFC, I have no grievance. It’s a free country and freedom of speech is a dear privilege. My faith is not threatened. I roll my eyes at such songs and move on — literally to the next amazing song on the disc (yes, I still purchase CDs).
In comparison to so many contemporary groups, the music of DCFC is intelligent, thoughtful, and observant of life’s circumstances. It is my hope that they stay together as a band (please come back, Mr. Walla!) and continue to record such tasteful, creative pop / alt-rock works. To conclude, I list just a few more of my favorite DCFC songs with YouTube video links.