Death Cab For Cutie multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Walla sounded the alarm just after New Year's: In one interview, he described Narrow Stairs as a "total curve ball" and a "really polarizing record" that's "got some teeth." To drive the message home, the band designated the eight-minute "I Will Possess Your Heart" as the album's first single, albeit in truncated radio-ready form.
But change is always relative. For a generally fey band like Death Cab, a darker, more abrasive approach has produced simply its most rock 'n' roll album to date. "Bixby Canyon Bridge" opens the album in typical Death Cab fashion, with a ghostly guitar and Ben Gibbard's voice. Bass and a second guitar come in intermittently, and a hi-hat ticks quietly. But when drummer Jason McGerr comes down hard on his toms, the guitars distort, and the airiness of the song's first minute gives way to the immediacy of a rock club.
Those moments are more common on Narrow Stairs than on its predecessors: "No Sunlight," "Long Division," and the end of "Pity And Fear" all have that rock-band urgency. They're nicely complemented by the sunny '60s pop of "You Can Do Better Than Me," the chilly slowness of "The Ice Is Getting Thinner," and "Cath…," which sounds like an unreleased track from 2000's We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes. Narrow Stairs finds Death Cab comfortable with all aspects of its musical personality—and on top of them all.