It may be their eighth studio album release, but Thank You For Today marks a new beginning for American indie-rock titans Death Cab For Cutie. Following long-standing guitarist and songwriter Chris Walla’s departure immediately before 2015’s Kintsugi, the band have regrouped in a new(ish) line-up with previous touring members Dave Depper and Zac Rae stepping up officially. Produced again by Rich Costey, it manages to be both familiar at the same time as offering tantalising glimpses of a new direction. With blue skies on the album sleeve, it seems that life’s possibilities are opening up once more for this beloved band.
With its shimmering, honeyed guitar sound, opener ‘I Dreamt We Spoke Again’ is so mellow, it instantly feels like sinking into the deepest of pillows. Suitably, it feels like a dream before the urgency of ‘Summer Years’ kicks in. It is here that the familiar Death Cab sound begins to almost imperceptibly shift into something more urgent, more alive. The driving rhythm skitters along like a runaway train carriage, all the while being chased by chiming guitar and Nick Harmer’s slow nagging bassline. Like much of Thank You For Today, the melancholia within Ben Gibbard’s lyrics and vocals seem to haunt him with an unanswered question of ‘what if?’ (“And I wonder where you are tonight, if the one you’re with was a compromise”), leaning towards pangs of regret rather than sorrow.
With all of the recent circumstances around the band, it is perhaps to be expected that much of the album looks backwards in theme – as if searching for something to cling on to as a comforting reference point during a turbulent period of change. Through many of Gibbard’s lyrics, there is a sense that the world is moving on around him. ‘Gold Rush’, with its story of gentrification and modernity, addresses this directly with its refrain of: “Stay the same, please don’t change”. It hints at the dangers of hanging onto the past as a reference point, however, as the chorus swoops away from the main song, it highlights a band that may see the comfort in its past but is unafraid of both the present and the future. Both ‘Your Hurricane’ and ‘When We Drive’ have a similarly nostalgic air to them, fondly looking back at moments of friendship and (perhaps) romance.
Musically, much of it still represents the classic Death Cab For Cutie sound – it is clear that the new line-up currently presents a gentle evolution here rather than a wild revolution. ‘Autumn Love’ is beautifully catchy with its simple chorus nudging its way deep into your eardrums after a few listens, while ‘Northern Lights’ is almost poetic in its execution against a driving beat. As with much of the group’s previous work, what seems simplistic in the beginning reveals new textures on repeated listens. Thank You For Today is an effortlessly comfortable record, one that tiptoes along the line of being undeniably familiar to long-time listeners but with the enforced change leading to the addition of a few new elements.