Asphalt Meadows

Death Cab for Cutie

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Asphalt Meadows Review

by Neil Z. Yeung

Four years after 2018's relatively warm Thank You for Today, indie rock stalwarts Death Cab for Cutie issue their tenth set, Asphalt Meadows. For a group so deep into their careers, the album sounds surprisingly urgent and revitalized, like a band reborn against the tumultuous backdrop of the early 2020s. As Ben Gibbard sings on "Roman Candles," "It's been a battle just to wake and greet the day…but I am learning to let go." That track crackles to life in a great clatter, with bassist Nick Harmer, drummer Jason McGerr, and guitarists/keyboardists Dave Depper and Zac Rae propelling the song forward like the titular fireworks. The standout title track pushes the urgency even further, riding a Radiohead-esque undercurrent, just as the breakneck "I Miss Strangers" catapults Death Cab into Cure-meets-Silversun-Pickups territory on their rockingest song in years. These energetic highlights abound: "Here to Forever" is classic Death Cab, balancing yearning and uncertainty with Gibbard's typically evocative lyrics, and "Pepper" rides restrained guitar, tinkling piano, and a persistent beat like something from their early Atlantic years. On the dreamier end of the spectrum, the soft rock "Rand McNally" sprinkles sparkling production atop patient bass plucks, before the bittersweet storytelling of "Foxglove Through the Clearcut" carries Asphalt Meadows into the ether. That spaced-out sound returns at the close with the meandering "Fragments from the Decade" -- a programming/production spectacle that is as spacious as it is vulnerable -- and the epic "I'll Never Give Up on You," a showcase of buzzing electronics, dramatic piano chords, and layered vocals. Kicking off their third decade post-Barsuk, Death Cab continue their evolution in fascinating and rewarding ways, somehow managing to surprise with fresh directions and sounds yet unheard from this ever-reliable crew.

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