As a touchstone indie band of the 2000s, Death Cab For Cutie crafted sensitive, wistful songs filled with earnest feeling. Starkly confessional and filled with a melancholy much-appreciated by the passing “emo” scene, their classic albums have aged well, but often sound of their time. With eight other studio albums under their belt and 20 years as a band, Thank You for Today surprises by offering a fresh take on Death Cab’s familiar sound: an album that’s grown-up without being musty.
As hazy synths drift in over a pulsing beat at the start of “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” any thought that you’re listening to Death Cab disappears. The sleek guitar riff and sexy bass line much too cool for a band whose real heyday was back when MySpace was still thriving. Whether the jolt of life is from newly minted members Dave Depper and Zac Rae can’t be said for sure, but their contributions on guitar and keys give the LP its sparkling edge. “Autumn Love” is another surprise, melodic down to the guitar riff, it will have you singing along as it breaks your heart.
Imaginative ideas sprinkle the album. “Gold Rush” is built around a propulsive sample from Yoko Ono’s 1972 track, “Mind Train.” As frontman Ben Gibbard recounts landmarks of his life that have now “been condos for a year or more,” the song takes on a chunky, funky neo-Beck feel—perhaps the only thing that shows their age more than the typically old curmudgeon theme of not wanting your neighborhood to change. “Northern Lights” has Gibbard crafting a cinematic scene, one pulled from the John Hughes movie he imagines would take place in his hometown. Poignantly specific, yet pleasantly universal details like “We shared a clove cigarette / On the parapet / As the T.V.’s glowed from windows of the model homes,” fits the mood just right, Gibbard singing to his very own Molly Ringwald.
Another flash of maturity comes with “When We Drive,” a love song for the realistic and middle-aged, when the crazy rush of love’s first blossom has worn off as the years roll by, replaced with the comfort and reliability of a companion for the road. Sure, he still loves the way her hair tangles on her head, the way her sun tan’s “only on one side” but he knows a long-term relationship isn’t all head-over-heels romance, the quietly driving bass line propelling the song down the highway into the sunset.
If you’re looking for quintessential Death Cab, “Your Hurricane” is the mildly depressing track for you—a melancholy ode to a troubled friend couched in 2000s alt-guitar—or try “Summer Years”—the angst we know and love tucked in-between the skittery, hi-hat beat with lyrics like “And I wonder where you are tonight / And if the one you’re with was a compromise.” “You Moved Away” is another bummer, the poignant recap of a friend packing up all his shit and leaving town, not much good for anything other than being sad.
The title comes from how the band would end each day in the studio, shaking each others hands and thanking everyone for what they had just done, coming from a place of gratitude regardless of how that day’s session went. It’s a small gesture but one that clearly drew the band, new and longtime members alike, into an alliance that resulted in another fine stop in Death Cab’s ongoing evolution.
Listen to Death Cab For Cutie perform in Seattle in 2008 via the Paste vault below: