Death, Gratitude, and Canadian Smut

Paul Karner

This season has been one of rebirth for a handful of great artists. As indie rock heroes from every city are beginning to toe the line of mainstream mediocrity, a number of recent releases have contained a subtle backlash of artistic self-confidence.
The first notable album is Death Cab For Cutie’s “Plans.” Although front man Ben Gibbard received enormous notoriety for his Postal Service side project, it seemed with 2003’s “Transatlanticism” that his electro-pop musings had left his rock palette a bit dry. To the pleasant surprise of many, on “Plans” Gibbard’s cleverly poignant lyrics along with his unusually natural melodies shine through clearer than ever. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” an agnostic love song sung over a soft acoustic guitar, is the most memorable moment on the album. Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla produced the record and it is to his credit that the album comes off crisp and beautiful without sounding insincere.
Another pleasant surprise was the new album “Takk” by the purveyors of Icelandic ambience, Sigur R¢s. With their two previous albums Sigur R¢s crafted a series of deeply ornate soundscapes but seemed to leave themselves little room to grow. However “Takk,” simply meaning “Thanks” in Icelandic, serves to show that these Scandinavians have an ear for more than just pretty layers and glittering crescendos. The album features more punctuated textures that show a keener sensitivity towards subtlety and add clarity to the direction of the album. The songs aren’t as long-winded which makes the music come off a bit more lucid to the listener. Though Sigur R¢s has had a devoted following since 2001’s “Ageatis Byrjun,” they have managed to create a much more accessible album that is nonetheless gripping. “Takk” is less of a departure for Sigur R¢s and more of a pleasant detour in their artistic direction as a band.
Another batch of foreigners recently reclaimed their place as power pop royalty. The New Pornographers “Twin Cinema” has turned what began as a sort of Canadian indie-rock supergroup – including A.C. Newman, Neko Case, and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar – into a powerful force in today’s rock scene. Much like Sigur R¢s and Death Cab, it is clear by the first listen that The New Pornographers were not interested in riding any previous successes with this album. “Twin Cinema” seems to pack more of a punch at points where the rhythm section steps up to pick up the reigns. Still, there is a depth to this recording that wasn’t as enticing in their previous records. Alluding perhaps to Carl (A.C.) Newman’s recent solo release, the hooks are embellished in a beautifully rough sort of way which makes the album rock hard yet, well, sentimentally. The catchy yet mathematical “Jessica Numbers” stands out as a perfect culmination of the different strengths of the band.