The Open Door EP

CDs

April 14, 2009|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

Death Cab for Cutie

[Atlantic Records] *** ( 3 STARS)

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The 2008 Grammy-nominated album by alt-rock band Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs, didn't quite achieve an even balance of light and dark tones. Although not exactly a depressing record, the CD was certainly more lyrically melancholic than its predecessor, 2005's Technicolor-bright Plans.

On Narrow Stairs, DCFC crafted a novelistic album whose songs pondered heartbreak while the music vacillated between sunny and partly cloudy. The result was expressive and mostly rewarding, but the overall feel may have been too somber for some.

Five tracks left off of Narrow Stairs make up The Open Door EP, in stores Tuesday. The tunes are so peppy and direct that it's hard to believe they were recorded during the same sessions. Given the immediate vibrancy of the songs, it makes sense that they were not included on the tightly focused album.

But they are as solidly executed as anything on Narrow Stairs. Ben Gibbard, the lead vocalist and chief songwriter, delivers spirited vocals, and the band sounds engaged throughout. The set kicks off with "Little Bribes," a clever look at life in casinos: "Every slot machine is a robot amputee waving hello/The people stare into their eyes and they feed them little bribes and then they go."

"A Diamond and a Tether" is probably as mopey as several of the songs on Narrow Stairs, but its bright, streamlined arrangement would have been at home on Plans. Perhaps the strongest cut on the EP is "My Mirror Speaks," which is driven by a stomping, Beatles-like backbeat accented with hand claps. That's followed by "I Was Once a Loyal Lover," another beat-driven cut awash with layers of fuzzy guitar.

While the EP may be something to tide fans over until the next proper DCFC album drops, it doesn't feel like a throwaway release. The pointedness of the songs make them as compelling as anything on Narrow Stairs. Where that album was more of an exploration of darkness, The Open Door allows more light to come through.

Rashod D. Ollison

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