Updated: Aug 9
Bellingham, Washington's finest made a substantial name for themselves throughout the 2000's through a unique blend of post-punk, jangle-pop, and indie rock just about one step out of the mainstream all with a subtle singer-songwriter twist from front man Ben Gibbard. A string of nice albums throughout the late 90's and into the 2000's seemingly got better and better until their creative peak, which was Transatlanticism, Plans, or Narrow Stairs, depending on who you ask (although the right answer is Plans). Death Cab for Cutie, along with The Shins, Arcade Fire and The Strokes dominated the world of North American indie rock throughout the first half of the 2000's. With a relatively extensive collection of records, assembling this list was a challenge due to the magic that is so much of the Death Cab discography, but below is our list of the top 15 songs by Death Cab for Cutie in order.
15 - A Movie Script Ending (The Photo Album)
You can hear the subtle mathy/post-punk sort of rock influence that engulfed the 90's alternative rock scene. With a subtle remanence of Pavement and American Football, songs like A Movie Script Ending are a nice nod to an evolving rock scene. The drums starting the song over the repeating guitar bring in Gibbard's vocals really nice with a general sound seemingly setting the stage for the greatness to come in Transatlanticism. This song bleeds 90's in all of the right ways.
14 - I Will Possess Your Heart (Narrow Stairs)
An interesting yet respectable move to put a song of this length on a record like Narrow Stairs but as track two on the album, it fits really well. The band hammers down the bassline right from the start building up from there, keeping the bassline relatively consistent throughout the song. One of the reasons this song is as good as it is, is the bands utilization of the spacious start followed by the build-up making it a great all-around rock song. An iconic track from Narrow Stairs, which has found a lot of love from Death Cab fans.
13 - I Will Follow You into the Dark (Plans)
Plans was one of the finest indie rock records of 2005 going head-to-head with Silent Alarm by Bloc Party or Gimme Fiction by Spoon and with that to no surprise came a handful of songs which made their way onto this list. I Will Follow You into the Dark remains as Death Cab's most popular song even building in popularity years after the release. The acoustic guitar meshes with Gibbard like a hand in a glove resulting in poetic, somber, beautiful lyrics. Although simplicity can often mean greatness, and undoubtedly this is a great song, Death Cab has a handful of songs even better than this one.
12 - The Ghosts of Beverly Drive (Kintsugi)
A nice straight forward modern rock song following the more haunting sounding Black Sun which both saw a good amount of love from American and Canadian rock radio. The up-tempo pace of the song makes it just danceable enough and just enough of a song you can sing along to.
11 - Title and Registration (Transatlanticism)
Such a good name for a song, with a line that can send shivers up the spine of anybody who was going a "little" over the speed limit. The use of electronic drums, percussion and additional studio effects is quite present on this track, adding to the diverse sound heard throughout this great album. One that certainly Death Cab fans find joy in hearing on alternative radio every now and again.
10 - You Are a Tourist (Codes and Keys)
Perhaps one of the only songs off of Codes and Keys which found plenty of liking from Death Cab fans. A nice off-beat drum groove sets the perfect feel for the song along with microphone effects putting Ben Gibbard's voice a bit behind the rest of the band throughout the verses. With that memorable lyrical line, "When you feel just like a tourist, in the city you were born, it's time to go," the albums leadoff single was a good one with some great lyrics. I wish I could say the same about most of the other tracks on this album.
9 - The Sound of Settling (Transatlanticism)
Every album needs upbeat, brighter sounding song to seal the deal and of course Transatlanticism was no exception to that rule. Originally not very liked by Ben Gibbard for his personal disliking of up tempo, bright sounding songs, it was a good thing it ended up on the record because its sure is a banger. Songs certainly don't have to be long to be memorable, just ask The Kooks with Eddie's Gun, or Vaccines with Norgaard.
8 - Black Sun (Kintsugi)
A haunting guitar line starts the song and holds its own throughout this entry from Kintsugi, a very hit or miss album for a lot of Death Cab fans. Even with the mixed reception from fans, we still got a couple good ones out of the 2015 collection of songs by the band. "There's hope within despair, and there's beauty in a failure," how about that for some dark lyrics? One of the big draws it seems Death Cab has is their willingness to mess with darker musical elements and lyrics which contrast very well with the high-pitched voice of Gibbard, and their often jangly guitar lines. This song is no exception.
7 - Grapevine Fires (Narrow Stairs)
Many of us who have a keen ear for drum grooves might think a little bit of What Sarah Said from Plans when they hear this beat. Jason McGerr brings back the shuffle and lines it up a bit more evenly with a more consistent back beat than What Sarah Said, although it was that moving of the backbeat that made that drumbeat so cool. Here we also have great lyrics along with some great guitar work apart from the drums. Of course, Jason's groovy shuffle was the icing on the cake for this song though. A nice mellow, and emotional song on a very emotional album.
6 - Crooked Teeth (Plans)
Crooked Teeth fits the vibe in just about any occasion it is played, whether that's in a coffee house, a bar, or on a sad day, or a happy day. Crooked Teeth is just one of those songs you don't skip. Still finding a ton of love from alternative radio and playlists, this is a gem which is a treat to hear every time it comes on. Tasteful guitar playing and a great chorus make this song always fit the mood.
5 - Cath... (Narrow Stairs)
Death Cab tends to do pretty well with their song transitions and the seamless transition between No Sunlight and the guitar strumming that starts Cath... is no exception. The masterful guitar hook comes in shortly after setting up the opening verse. With a non-resolution at the end of the guitar hook, listeners are forced to hold on until the verse starts. Little effects like these make musicians smile and make for a real catchy song. Gibbard's less than kind lyrics on this song encapsulate even more of the emotion that is this record, adding to the overall subtle angst heard throughout the song. A high energy, loud midpoint of the song cements the fine detail of the track and Narrow Stairs overall.
4 - We Laugh Indoors (The Photo Album)
On this song we get a little bit of British mythology thrown in the Lyrics as Gibbard seemingly speaks of a lover who has wronged him. Apart from the mythologic lyrics sprinkled throughout, We laugh Indoors showcases some of the band's finest musicianship on the record largely credited to Gibbard but also producer and fellow Death Cab member Chris Walla. Purposeful microphone clipping, distortion and loud guitars light up the louder parts of the song, resulting in a clever, yet poetic rock song.
3 - Soul Meets Body (Plans)
Soul Meets Body is a great indie rock song on its surface but revealed below the surface is a handful of very subtle effects making this an iconic song for all of the indie kids of the 2000's. Masterful chord changes played by the band during and following the chorus give way to an alluring instrumental melody following the vocal melody of Gibbard. On the staff lines, this is a textbook fantastic and catchy indie rock song. The post-production on this track is top notch adding an array of minor studio effects, making it crystal clear to the listeners that the band played this song over and over again until they got it perfect, and man did they get it perfect.
2 - Transatlanticism (Transatlanticism)
This is just a great song, what else is there to say? At about the midpoint of the album, the album-titled track brings the energy up for the remaining tracks. A true symphony of rock with a mesh of all different styles including the piano ballad sounds which start the song before being built up by the repeating guitar groove. The band belts out the words in a perfect unison towards the end signifying the longing this song symbolizes. This song, better than no other on the record encapsulates the themes of the record simply with the repeated line "I Need You so Much Closer." One of the best symphonic rock songs of the era filled with beauty and longing, heard in all of the instrumentation, not just in the lyrics which is an impressive thing to do.
1 - Brothers on a Hotel Bed (Plans)
Plans was a great collection of songs, but nothing can hold a candle to Brothers on a Hotel Bed. Nothing on the album, and nothing in the entire Death Cab catalogue can touch this song. With lyrics that can stop you in your tracks on the topic of a relatable situation for many listeners pulling at their heartstrings, this song is a symphony of poetry and a divine level of musical talent. The flawless transition between What Sarah Said, and the piano sonata is as graceful as could be before the tasteful drums come in setting Gibbard up for his finest lyrics ever. The band stays nice and soft behind the lyrics and Ben just really lays it on you. A fan favorite and a song which can capture a moment in time.
Few bands can pour as much emotion into their music as Death Cab for Cutie does, surely a large part of their success. The most impressive thing is their ability to match their instrumental writing to the emotion poured into the songs through Ben Gibbard's lyrics. With a long string of successful albums, the discography of great music is very expansive for these guys and they sure are quite an experience to see live. In no particular order, a couple honorable mentions are What Sarah Said, Death of an Interior Decorator, Your New Twin Sized Bed, We Looked Like Giants and Title Track.