In 2005, I was 10 years old. 2005 is not the year I first acquired Death Cab for Cutie’s major label debut, Plans, but it is the year it was released. 10 years later, this indie-pop classic is still relevant – a staple of college rock and college attitudes prepared to get you through just about anything.
Death Cab for Cutie first gained mass attention from shows like The OC and Six Feet Under, whose teenage characters (I’m looking at you, Seth Cohen) harped on the power of Ben Gibbard’s lyricism and consistently referenced songs like “Title and Registration” and “A Lack of Color.” With this push of critical acclaim and mass appeal, the band was able to sign with Atlantic Records to release their major label debut, Plans.
The term “major label” can scare people sometimes – mostly people who don’t know what they’re talking about – but Plans is a testament to Death Cab for Cutie’s penchant for diversity and inventive textures, as heard on spacey single “Soul Meets Body.” Elsewhere, the band penned perhaps their most recognizable number— acoustic ballad “I Will Follow You into the Dark.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Plans is a journey through unexplored textures and soundscapes. The album utilizes more piano arrangements than ever before, from the way dusty opening chords of “Different Names for the Same Thing” ring out before transitioning into a full-blown electronic symphony to the anxious pacing of “What Sarah Said.”
The album covers a myriad of relatable topics including death (“What Sarah Said”), age (“Brothers on a Hotel Bed”) and new beginnings (“Your Heart is an Empty Room.”) Most striking is the aforementioned “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” the band’s magnum opus and a stunning letter about losing touch with the ones we once loved as we grow older.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that not only had the band never written something like this before (instead opting for more lo-fi, guitar-leaning records such as Something About Airplanes and We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes), but they haven’t written anything like it since; each album following Plans has been arguably worse than the last, ending on this year’s disappointingly underwhelming Kintsugi.
Despite this, there’s always hope our favorite artists will return to their roots – perhaps not sonically, but in the way they once dazzled us with songs that sounded personalized for our situations. Plans is a timeless album that offers something for everyone, be it high schoolers forging their path to college or the parents swept up in sending their children to school for the first time. From the opening swells of “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” through the downbeat bassline of “Summer Skin” and ending on the encompassing warmth of “Stable Song,” Plans is an album I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves easily swept up in the emotion of music – regardless of what side of the instruments you find yourself on.