Choosing a Bonzo Dog Band song title as a band name is a bold gambit, anachronistic, obscurant and stubbornly anti-commercial. Yet Washington state group Death Cab for Cutie
(the Bonzos' song was "Death Cab for a Cutie"; was the same album's "Piggy Bank Love" already taken?) has consistently exhibited a strong instinct for the modern, the plain and the commercial, albeit on an audibly low budget. Death Cab's awkward name betrays no offbeat influence, unless you count an unironic appreciation for '80s Top 40; speaking to Pitchforkmedia.com
earlier this year, Death Cab singer Ben Gibbard confessed an abiding affection for Hall and Oates. (He has long lobbied his bandmates to cover Hall and Oates' "One on One.") Listing his favorite songs by the duo, Gibbard praised the heavy backbeat and handclaps of "Private Eyes." His admiration crystallizes in the addictive "The Sound of Settling," from Death Cab's new Transatlanticism
. I've got a hunger twisting my stomach into knots
, Gibbard sings, his thirst for H2O
finally slaked by a glistening baa-baa
chorus, hammering drums and more clap than an autopsy of the Marquis de Sade. The rest of the disc shows similar studio polish, confident but not mechanized. It's the band's most rewarding album yet -- musically accomplished, lyrically astute and sonically fluid.
Sharing the bill with Death Cab is the Seattle group the Long Winters, a collective built around singer John Roderick's ne'er-do-well songwriting persona. The Winters' sterling recent release When I Pretend to Fall, for which Roderick hailed Death Cab guitarist and producer Chris Walla for an assist, balances tuneful, sardonic pop with bleary mea culpas.