It can’t be easy to be one of those bands so tightly tied to teenage longing and adolescent discovery. “Do not insult Death Cab!,” cried Seth Cohen in shiny US coming-of-age drama The O.C. Still, the college rock formula planted Washington rockers into the hearts of a generation for life. But what happens when those bands grow up?
The recently reunited Bright Eyes made up for a near-decade away when 2020 comeback record ‘Down In The Weeds Where The World Once Was’ retraced their influence on loud-but-bookish millennials such as The 1975 and Phoebe Bridgers. They were welcomed back, but Death Cab For Cutie have never been away. They had the challenge of ageing through the 2010s, bringing divorce, trauma and very real adulthood into their music while attempting to remain the masters of dreamy, emo-tinged Americana.
While 2018 predecessor ‘Thank You For Today’ was dismissed by many as a little too beige, their return has a little more fire and focus with that delicious Death Cab marriage of richly lyrical, emotional storytelling and hook-laden indie-pop. Bittersweet opener ‘I Don’t Know How I Survive’ offers a jaunty melody as frontman Ben Gibbard relives a late-night panic attack: “Pacing across the room while she’s asleep / Tears raining down your cheeks / You’re trying to hold on.”
That spirit of anthemic existentialism continues on ‘Roman Candles’, a fiery ode to “learning to let go”; the motorik title track; God-questioning sad-pop centre-piece ‘Here To Forever’ and the post-punk rush of ‘I Miss Strangers’. On the latter, Gibbard mourns the past with “two casualties of the punk wars, buried in leather”.
More sombre but affecting cuts arrive in the form of the woozy ‘Wheat Like Waves’ and the spoken-word post-rock gem ‘Foxglove Through The Clearcut’, which finds the frontman at his most pensive and poetic: “They said that nothing lives long, only the earth and the mountains…’ Rather than end on a whimper, ‘I’ll Never Give Up On You’ closes with a bang of squelchy electro-rock as Gibbard squares up the “drugs that made me restless”, the “alcohol that made me cruel”, faith in politicians and more.
‘Asphalt Meadows’ is as assured and stately as you’d expect and hope for from indie veterans now 10 albums and 25 years into their career, but this beaut is as consistent and satisfying as their early-mid ‘00s career peak. Here are a band still very much in love with what they do.
Release date: September 16
Label: Atlantic Records