After four years of waiting for another full-length album—since 2018’s Thank You For Today— rock band Death Cab for Cutie’s 10th album, Asphalt Meadows, has finally arrived.
Any Death Cab fan who knows the band’s track record would expect Asphalt Meadows to be an album full of slow-burn songs. Death Cab for Cutie is famous for electric endings to songs that start slow and gradually build.
The band’s earlier tracks “Someday You Will Be Loved” and “Transatlanticism” are some of the best examples of this quintessential Death Cab move.
While this style is still present on Asphalt Meadows, it doesn’t deliver the same satisfying listening experience that it usually does. At times, the build is so obvious and dramatic that it feels like self-parody.
But the moments where the style is at its best make the album worth listening to.
Unfortunately, Death Cab also structured its album like one of those slow-burn songs it’s known for. The beginning of the album is full of mediocre songs with shaky starts that are not justified with the stellar outros that any listener would expect. The songs that do finish with satisfying endings are buried too deep into the album. But most listeners would stop listening by then.
In the first track, “I Don’t Know How I Survive,” lead vocalist Ben Gibbard’s strong voice refuses to mesh with the lackluster instrumentation in the beginning of the song. The song opens with an acoustic sound but with a backing track underlayer that does not blend well. “Rand McNally” and “Roman Candles” fall victim to this same issue and are missing a sense of cohesion with most of the tracks.
The sixth song on the album, “Foxglove Through the Clearcut,” is a turning point. Every following song improves with every note. The lyrics become more descriptive and creative. Gibbard paints a haunting image of devastation and nature in the poetic lyrics.
“And now, he and I watch the foxglove grow through the clearcut / Where a forest once grew high and wild / For what is a funeral without flowers?” Gibbard sings.
The songs get longer as the album unfolds, giving more time for Death Cab’s slow builds to shine. The album culminates with “I’ll Never Give Up On You.” The track describes a failing faith in the state of the world but a commitment to “never give up” on love.
“I’ve given up on confrontation / And I’ve given up on every politician too,” Gibbard sings.
This sense of despair mixed with hope is mirrored in the light instrumentation fighting against the dark distortion throughout the track.
The frustration of listening to some of these beginning tracks makes what could have been a great album just okay. If Death Cab reverted back to these more complex lyrics and better instrumentation, Asphalt Meadows could have reached the same acclaim as its other albums. Instead, fans are left with an album mostly full of disappointing songs.