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Music / Death Cab for Cutie

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Left to right: Jason McGerr, Ben Gibbard, and Nick Harmer.

If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the "No"s on their "Vacancy" signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I will follow you into the dark
— "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"

Death Cab for Cutie are an indie rock band from Bellingham, Washington, formed in 1997 as a solo project of frontman Ben Gibbard.

At the time of formation, Gibbard was a twenty-something science graduate who had previously been in other local bands such as Pinwheel and ¡All-Time Quarterback!. By 1998, Gibbard had recruited several band mates from his previous bands, most notably The Revolutionary Hydra, into a full fledged band. The name was taken from the The Bonzo Dog Band song of the same name, performed in The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour.

Already well known in the Seattle area, Death Cab's breakout hit was their 2003 album Transatlanticism, which saw exposure in television shows such as The O.C. (in which it forms part of Seth Cohen's indie starter pack) and Six Feet Under. The attention prompted them to move from Barsuk Records, which had accommodated Gibbard and company for the past decade, to Atlantic Records. They continued to grow in popularity after their move to Atlantic, with Plans and Narrow Stairs becoming their most successful records to date, though reception towards the band has cooled somewhat since the release of the Synth-Pop-inflected Codes and Keys and the general decline in interest in Indie Rock acts in the latter half of The New '10s.

Founding member Chris Walla left the band in 2014 to pursue other interests, though he stayed on long enough to finish recording 2015's Kintsugi. Death Cab’s tenth studio album, Asphalt Meadows, was released in September 2022.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Ben Gibbard: vocals, guitar, and piano (1997–)
  • Nick Harmer: bass guitar (1997–)
  • Jason McGerr: drums (2003–)
  • Dave Depper: guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (2016-)
  • Zac Rae: keyboards, guitar (2016-)
  • Chris Walla: guitar, piano, and production work (1997–2014)
  • Nathan Good: drums and percussion (1997–99)
  • Michael Schorr: drums and percussion (2000–03)


  • You Can Play These Songs with Chords (demo 1997, re-release 2002)
  • Something About Airplanes (1998)
  • We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (2000)
    • The Forbidden Love EP (2000)
  • The Photo Album (2001)
    • The Stability EP (2002)
  • Transatlanticism (2003)
  • Plans (2005)
  • Narrow Stairs (2008)
    • The Open Door EP (2009)
  • Codes and Keys (2011)
  • Kintsugi (2015)
  • Thank You For Today (2018)
    • The Blue EP (2019)
  • Asphalt Meadows (2022)

The other members continue to freelance elsewhere in their spare time, launching side projects wherever they see fit: Most notably, Gibbard teamed up with electronica musician Jimmy Tamborello (a.k.a. Dntel) to form The Postal Service, and former member Chris Walla is a well known record producer for other bands such as Tegan & Sara, The Decemberists, and The Thermals. Gibbard was also married to actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, though they later separated.

Death Cab for Cutie contains examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Usually averted, which makes its appearances in "Title and Registration" that much more noticeable:
    ...when I stumbled upon pictures I'd tried to forget, and that's how this i-dea was drilled into my head.
    • In the lines: "But while you debate half empty or half full..." in Marching Bands of Manhattan, there is a subtle bit of this involved.
  • Album Title Drop: Codes and Keys is probably the only one with an obvious one (in the Title Track).
    • Also on Plans in "What Sarah Said":
    And it came to me then
    That every plan
    Is a tiny prayer to Father Time
  • Ashes to Crashes: Styrofoam Plates:
    There's a saltwater film on the jar of your ashes; I threw them to sea,
    but a gust blew them backwards and the sting in my eyes
    that you then inflicted was par for the course just as when you were living.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Discussed in the song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark": "When heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied, illuminate the nos on their vacancy signs".
  • Book Ends: Transatlanticism begins and ends with the same mid range undulating synth tone, which is a major third above the tonic of both songs ("The New Year" and "A Lack of Color").
  • Break-Up Song: Kintsugi is composed almost entirely of songs written in the wake of both Walla's departure from the band and Gibbard's divorce with Zooey Deschanel, making it a breakup album of sorts.
  • Broken Pedestal: "60 & Punk" is about a fan's disgust at a rock star's drunken antics:
    There's nothing funny 'bout you slipping away
    It's nothing funny how you're spending your days
    But you're laughing like a kid at a carnival
    Watched you stumbling 'round this dusty town
    I heard your bottle talking way too loud
    As the Federales tried to hunt you down
    For something you can't remember what was about
  • Cessation of Existence: Discussed in "Saint Peter's Cathedral":
    "...when our hearts stop ticking, this is the end, there's nothing past this."
    • One interpretation of I Will Follow You Into the Dark could be about this trope, though it could also be about simply not knowing what happens after death.
  • Concept Album: We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes is considered by most fans to be a disguised example, at least for the first eight songs, which chronicle a relationship starting with a one night stand, and ending with the guy crashing the girl's wedding to another guy. It's disputed whether the last two songs fit into the narrative or not.
    • The Open Door EP is about commitment issues.
    • "Transatlanticism" is themed around a long distance relationship.
  • Continuity Nod: In "Why You'd Want to Live Here" (a huge Take That! at the city of Los Angeles), Ben refers to L.A. as "the belly of the beast". He must have had a change of heart at some point, because "Stay Young, Go Dancing" starts with the line "Life is sweet in the belly of the beast". (It's worth noting that when the latter song was released, he was married to Hollywood actress Zooey Deschanel. Although the song is also about happiness in grim circumstances — "though winter's advancing / we'll stay young, go dancing" — so it may not be much of a compliment to the city after all.)
  • Cover Version: Ben Gibbard's solo project ¡All-Time Quarterback! covered The Magnetic Fields' "Why I Cry".
    • The band recorded a cover of "Earth Angel" by The Penguins for the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack.
    • As well as The Cure's "Lovesong".
  • Emo Kid: Subverted, much to the surprise to some new listeners of the band. With a name like that and Ben Gibbard's look, you'd expect him to be screaming about how life is unfair. In fact, quite a lot of Death Cab's songs are melancholy ballads.
  • Epic Rocking: "I Will Possess Your Heart" (about 8 1/2 minutes, also qualifies as an Epic Instrumental Opener) and "Transatlanticism" (nearly 8 minutes).
    • The B-side "Stability" — actually an alternate version of the album track "Stable Song" — crosses the twelve minute mark.
    • "We Looked Like Giants" can stretch to as long as ten minutes live, while versions of "Scientist Studies" and "Blacking Out the Friction" can reach nine. note 
    • The Something About Airplanes recording of "Line of Best Fit" is just over seven minutes, the last three of which (approximately) consist of a full blown guitar and drum jam, though it starts slowing down towards the end.
    • "Unobstructed Views" is over six minutes long. Another example of an Epic Instrumental Opener.
  • Fading into the Next Song: The trio of "Tiny Vessels", "Transatlanticism", and "Passenger Seat" on Transatlanticism.
    • Almost every song on the album Transatlanticism, if you turn up the volume and listen closely. The only exceptions are "Expo '86", "The Sound of Settling", and "Death of an Interior Decorator".
  • Flatline: Heavily implied in "What Sarah Said":
    Each descending peak on the LCD
    took you a little farther away from me
  • Four More Measures: "I Will Possess Your Heart", which takes four minutes of gradual instrumental build up to get to the first line. That said, it is an epic four minutes.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: Styrofoam Plates:
    It's no stretch to say that you were not quite a father
    But a donor of seeds to a poor single mother
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "Marching Bands of Manhattan" ends with a solitary piano key. Also, "Pity and Fear" could be considered an example; the guitar seems to be building toward a crescendo and then suddenly stops dead. Word of God says that this happened when the recorder they were using to record the song broke, and they liked the effect it created better than the original end.
    • "Scientist Studies". Dear God.
  • Live Episode: In what's possibly the first Music Video example, the band's video for "You Are a Tourist" aired live in a single take, over the internet on April 5, 2011.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Ben is the master of this trope:
    • How about "No Sunlight", a beach pop tune about the loss of innocence?
    • Or "Death of an Interior Decorator", whose subject is cheated on by her husband, witnesses DCFC's most tumultuous wedding ceremony, and is slowly withering away through life?
    • Or "The Sound of Settling", which is a indie pop Crowd Song about crippling shyness?
    • Or "We Will Become Silhouettes" (from the Postal Service album Give Up), a cheery ditty about nuclear holocaust?
    • "You Can Do Better Than Me" sounds fairly upbeat and cheery, until you realize that the lyrics are about about someone who feels as though their relationship is falling apart, but their lack of self esteem means that they're willing to cling to the relationship.
    • And now from Codes and Keys, we have "Underneath the Sycamore", an upbeat tune that begins with the character in the song dying in a terrible car crash! The song goes on to say that that the character finds their peace "underneath the sycamore" aka six feet under in a graveyard. Cheery!
    • "Your New Twin Sized Bed" is a catchy song about insecurity and failing relationships:
    You look so defeated lying there in your new twin-sized bed,
    with a single pillow underneath your single head...
  • Meaningful Name: Kintsugi is a Japanese art form involving the repair of broken pottery; the album is made up of songs reflecting upon Gibbard's divorce and the band coming to terms with Walla's exit.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Subverted to hell and back in "Styrofoam Plates", a rant by a young man, raised by a poor single mother, who refuses to talk nice about his dead father just because he's dead.
    And just ‘cause he’s gone, it doesn’t change the fact:
    He was a bastard in life, thus a bastard in death!
  • New Sound Album: While the band's sound has been evolving gradually since the beginning, Codes and Keys makes the most drastic stylistic jump. The lyrics are more optimistic than usual (probably because Gibbard was happily married at the time of its release) and there is a heavier emphasis on electronic instrumentation.
    • The LP before, Narrow Stairs, is cited by the band's fans as their turn to Darker and Edgier, with songs like "Grapevine Fires" and "The Ice is Getting Thinner" taking the superficial emo categorization of Death Cab to a whole new level of half truth.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Many songs, such as "Transatlanticism", "Title Track", "Lightness", "President of What?", "No Joy in Mudville", "Expo 86", "Grapevine Fires", etc.
  • Non-Indicative Name: According to them:
    The glove compartment
    is inaccurately named,
    and everybody knows it;
    so I'm proposing
    a swift, orderly change.
    Because behind its door
    there's nothing to keep my fingers warm...
  • The Nothing After Death: The "Dark" in "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" refers to both to the nothing after death and not knowing what happens after death.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: "Someday You Will Be Loved":
    In the morning, I fled
    left a note and it read
    • Also, in "Pity and Fear".
  • Obsession Song: "I Will Possess Your Heart", which has lyrics as creepy as it sounds.
  • One-Woman Song: "Cath..."
  • Post-Rock: Borders onto this territory with the title track from Transatlanticism.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: "I Will Possess Your Heart" starts with a pair of piano bars, then the bass joins, then the guitar appears subtly, then the drums join, then after a very long intro, the voice joins at the end.
  • Shrinking Violet: Chris, sort of, as a male example. Anyone who's been to a live show will attest to the fact he's very shy and quiet in comparison to the others.
  • Stalker with a Crush: "I Will Possess Your Heart".
  • Stop and Go: "Why You'd Want to Live Here".
  • Studio Chatter: Found in the beginning of "Title Track", in which Ben is presumably talking to Chris, who gets cut off as the music begins.
    Chris: "Rolling."
    Ben: "This is the count out?"
    Chris: "Yep."
    Ben: "The cue?"
    Chris: "Oh, no, that's—"
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Played for tragedy in "Company Call Epilogue".
    Crashing through the parlour doors,
    What was your first reaction?
    Screaming, drunk, disorderly, I'll tell you mine.
    • Also played with in the music video for "Cath..."
  • Titled After the Song: The band's name is a reference to a The Bonzo Dog Band song in Magical Mystery Tour.
  • Undying Loyalty: "I Will Follow You Into the Dark".