Death Cab on departure with new album


To follow its 2005 mainstream breakthrough, "Plans," Death Cab for Cutie opted to record live to analog tape with as few overdubs as possible. The outcome: "a sampling of the most uptempo, upbeat Death Cab songs as well as some of our saddest," bassist Nick Harmer said.

On the as-yet-untitled album, due in late May via Atlantic, likely opener "Bixby Canyon Bridge" falls into the former category, while "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" "just breaks my heart every time," Harmer said. "It's a really pretty, electric guitar song ... it's somber like (the last album's) 'Brothers on a Hotel Bed.'"

Most unusual: the nine-minute jam "I Will Possess Your Heart," of which Harmer said, "We hit our stride on that song. We looked at the habitual things we've done in the past and tried to move beyond them."

The album also features the Long Winters' John Roderick and Pedro the Lion's David Bazan "singing on a couple of choruses, like a men's choir," as well as the song "Casino Blues," which frontman Ben Gibbard has previously debuted during his solo acoustic performances.

For his part, guitarist Chris Walla describes the album as "really weird. It's really, really good, I think, but it's totally a curve ball, and I think it's gonna be a really polarizing record. But I'm really excited about it. It's really got some teeth. The landscape of the thing is way, way more lunar than the urban meadow sort of thing that has been happening for the last couple of records."

Walla adds that it's "louder and more dissonant and ... I think abrasive would be a good word to use." A variety of influences factored into the album, he says, including Harmer's taste for "heavy, sludgy, slow metal" and Walla's rekindled interest in the synth-punk band Braniac.

Of course, a sea change after the success of "Plans" is risky, but Walla says Death Cab is collectively up for challenging its fans. "On ('Plans') we were really making a lot of decisions based on what we felt other people were gonna think," he explains. "But this record, there's this kind of slightly malicious glee that we all have that it sounds kind of crazy. It's pretty fun."

Meanwhile, Walla is crafting plans to promote his new Barsuk solo album, "Field Manual" (Jan. 29), even as the Death Cab campaign begins. He hopes to play some shows of his own but says that he'd "be surprised if I was able to do anything significant until June or July, if not later."

And it's unlikely he'd choose to open for Death Cab, even though Gibbard "floated" the idea. "I don't think it would be a very good idea, ultimately," he said, "if for no other reason than that's a long time for any one person to be on stage.

Jonathan Cohen reported from New York; Gary Graff reported from Detroit.