Ben Gibbard – Former Lives

November 28, 2012

It has been almost ten years since Washington songwriter Ben Gibbard, best known for fronting Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie, has released solo material – and this is his debut full-length album. Death Cab are still operating with a release of their own this year, and Gibbard is keen to make clear that this is a side-story as opposed to a new chapter, with these songs spanning “eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking”.


The album opens with a brief accapella track Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby, which was apparently recorded on an iPhone in the rain. It’s the audible equivalent of a doodle on a magazine; a whimsical ditty if you will. But from there, the album sinks into the straight-forwardly rhythmic Dream Song, and Teardrop Windows. There is just a splash of folk in there, perhaps nestled in the guitar tones, and these tracks certainly stand out from recent Death Cab tracks which have arguably pushed the bands sound. In a way, these return to a more conventional, tried and tested recipe.


Following these solid tracks is the slightly punchier Bigger Than Love, a duet with Aimee Mann; and Lily, a brief twinkly number that is kind of this albums equivalent of I Will Follow You Into The Dark, but minus all the hooks. Something’s Rattling however, is something of a mariachi number with latin-style guitars, horns, and strings. Based on an old cowboy yodel, it’s a light-hearted track to say the least.


There is a slight air of cheesiness about the latter tracks, although that’s to be expected of this songsmith who has been crafting cutesy songs for fifteen years now. A Hard One To Know is a pleasantly pacey track which tells the age-old tale of men struggling to understand women, and is certainly one of the stronger tracks in this closing half which is turns more and more country by the second. I’m pretty sure that’s a pedal steel guitar on Broken Yolk in Western Sky.


The album closes with I’m Building A Fire, a gentle acoustic that oozes DIY recording and brings the album to a quite lovely end. All in all, this isn’t bad at all. Somewhat obviously for a project which spans such a vast time, there are plenty of tracks which flirt with Death Cab’s previous sounds whilst still sounding fresh and original. It’s quite middle-of-the-road, even by Death Cab standards, but it isn’t half bad…