Death Cab for Cutie
The Open Door EP
Atlantic/Barsuk

3.5 out of 5 stars

Oh, sweet irony. Sometimes Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s lead singer, relies too heavily on his paradoxical wit. But this time it seems unintentional. On “I Was Once a Loyal Lover” on The Open Door EP a jaded Gibbard sings “All my friends are forward-thinking / getting hitched and quitting drinking / And I can feel them pulling away / as I’m resigned to stay the same,” as he reflects on the pains of growing older, which was a common theme of 2008’s Narrow Stairs.

The irony kicks in with the knowledge of Gibbard’s recent engagement to actress and singer Zooey Deschanel. He has inducted himself into the group of clean-cut, married men he longed to be a part of. Hopefully this won’t signal Gibbard’s last offering of songs about heartbreak and lost opportunities, an art he has perfected over Death Cab’s 12-year existence.

The Open Door EP is a collection of four new songs that didn’t make the cut for Narrow Stairs, as well as one demo from the LP. Essentially, the EP is a talent show featuring Gibbard’s simple yet insightful lyrics matched up against guitarist/producer Chris Walla’s anal-retentive production. The competition between the two is playful and a unique element to the band’s success. Gibbard’s emotional nature balances out Walla’s perfectionist song crafting, and vice versa.

In “Little Bribes,” a angsty Gibbard expresses his dissatisfaction with the modern world’s prevailing tendency toward impulsive desires. Walla flaunts his mastery by blending a rock-steady acoustic line with an anticipatory background guitar that seamlessly ushers its way into brief yet energizing piano and electric guitar flourishes. If the EP were a boxing match, round one is a toss up between the competing talents of Gibbard and Walla, displaying their tight compatibility.

More of Walla’s production prowess flashes on “A Diamond and a Tether,” creating an ambient sound that forms an airy yet textured atmosphere. Gibbard dishes out one of his weaker metaphors as he compares a stagnant relationship to the objects in the song’s title. Round two goes to Walla.

“My Mirror Speaks” includes a complacent hand-clapping rhythm, which superficially distracts from the song’s simplistic structure. A display of Gibbard’s questionable vocal range makes the third song a push.

A straightforward rocker, “I Was Once a Loyal Lover” employs excessive distortion and a heavier bassline than necessary for a Death Cab song. Histrionic lyrics like “There’s so many bridges engulfed in flames behind me” are expected from Gibbard, but with his quirky delivery, its difficult not to fall for their utter sincerity. The fourth offering is a victory for Gibbard.

Although the four songs prove to be just as worthy as many songs on Narrow Stairs, it’s understandable why they weren’t included on the album. “Little Bribes” and “I Was Once a Loyal Lover” both sound incomplete, neither containing a definitive ending. “My Mirror Speaks” harkens back to the sound on 2001’s The Photo Album, displaying more complex melodies, which contrast the strum-heavy sound heard on Death Cab’s last two albums. “A Diamond and a Tether” is a lighter-waving ballad with a twangy guitar line and is too complacent to fit in with the more upbeat tunes on Narrow Stairs.

Standing on their own, the songs of The Open Door EP are solid and certainly worth a listen, especially when accounting for Gibbard’s position in song-writing limbo.

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