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the photo album
Death Cab For Cutie
The Photo Album
Barsuk

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Yes, the indie pop band that set a million kids’ tongues wagging is back with a new album, and they've set their sights on the pinnacle of indie rock stardom. The young, Seattle-based quartet has had a relatively short and effortless climb so far; last year’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes landed at the top of many critics’ "Best Of" lists, while the band rolled along in their van, playing sold-out shows all across America. DCFC mania was truly upon us. Hell, even my mother, who normally hates everything I listen to, mentioned how much she liked the record.

After all that (not to mention the release of their Forbidden Love EP), it certainly would have been easy enough for the band to sit back and enjoy their newfound success. Instead, they decided to strike while the proverbial iron was hot, and headed straight back into the studio -- emerging several months later with The Photo Album.

If there were one major criticism to be levied against We Have the Facts..., it would be that the record simply didn’t have enough oomph. Sure, the songs were well recorded and smartly crafted, and Ben Gibbard’s lyrics were wry and self-deprecating, but on the whole it lacked any real punch. Fortunately, this malady has been all but alleviated on The Photo Album. Gibbard’s lyrics still pack the same emotional wallop, and Chris Walla’s production is still pristine, but the band has revealed a seething, visceral, rocking side of their music. They trade their cardigans for leather pants on the staccato guitar-driven "Blacking Out the Friction", then kick things up a notch with the chugging, dissonance-laced "I was a Kaleidoscope". While their method of rocking might not seem as exciting as, say, AC/DC, it is nevertheless a new and exciting component in DCFC’s arsenal.

As far as old weapons are concerned, their knack for penning a sublimely simple yet amazingly effective melody comes across beautifully on the hushed opener, "Steadier Footing", and the swooning "Information Travels Faster". Lyrically, the record alternates between doe-eyed and starstruck ("Movie Script Ending") and bitter and cynical ("Styrofoam Plates"), wholly dependant on singer/guitarist Gibbard’s wildly fluctuating moods.

Longtime DCFC fans will undoubtedly embrace The Photo Album as another shimmering jewel in Death Cab for Cutie’s canon, while those who didn't care much for the band before probably won’t find themselves dancing in the streets praising this latest effort. But to quote the popular adage, it’s the little things that count. While the changes the band has made here are small, they are nevertheless the key factor that transforms The Photo Album from a charming pop album into a shimmering Album Of The Year contender.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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