By Tom Hicks
“Roman Candles”, the new single by Indie-rock legends Death Cab for Cutie, signifies a rebirth in their sound to fit current musical trends. Featuring high-fidelity reverberation and distortion-guitar effects over their signature soft vocal melodies, DCFC produces a sound incomparable to anything they did on previous releases. The song is not a relaxing listen like the lo-fi-esque releases they are known for, as the heavy guitar/synth sounds are discordant to the vocals, producing an anxious and foreboding feeling. Though, despite its unusual sound, it feels resolute and complete overall, leaving the listener with a feeling of satisfaction by the end.
The song begins with a deep-punching rhythm of drums and bass before introducing vocals. The lyricist and primary songwriter, Ben Gibbard takes a different approach to lyrics on this release. Rather than writing this song to someone else or a group of people, the song is mainly introspective. The focus is on the everyday, such as getting a cup of coffee and waking up. The relatable nature of the song is extended to the line “everyone moving while i’m standing still”. This is definitely a feeling which we all felt over the past two years, as everyone was socially disconnected from each other and had no idea how others were handling the situation. Over blaring synthesizer leads, Ben Gibbard’s vocals are conversely relaxed and steady to create something pleasant in the presence of what seems like a disordered song. While the lyrics indicate a disconnection from others, there is also a bit of relief, as there is the realization of what one can let go of from their past. During the global quarantine, we all felt the sorrow of not being able to see others, but also the relief of learning more about ourselves and our personal needs apart from others. Coming out of quarantine, the difficulty which the lyrics describe is the letting go of that which you do not want to bring back into your life post-quarantine. The overarching relation to Roman Candles, a firework which one sets off from their own arm, is that this is an astonishing and brave act of an individual. There is pain in letting go, but also importance and personal amazement that comes with it. Ben Gibbard is notable for creating lyrics which turn a grave situation into something understandable, yet comfortable in its understandable nature. Rather than focus on the negative aspects of life, he creates a narrative of the world which is realistically harmonious and succinct to provoke feelings of joy and personal connection even in the worst of situations.
It is no surprise to fans that this single is so different from previous releases, as since their formation in 1997, DCFC have remained consistently inventive and undefinable. There are few artists which release albums that are each enjoyed by separate groups of fans. It is as if each album exists on its own. Many original fans may know them for their first trio of lo-fi-rock albums released between 1998 and 2001. Meanwhile, some more contemporary listeners may know them for You Can Play These Songs With Chords, Transatlanticism, Plans, and Narrow Stairs. And listeners of recent may know them for Codes and Keys, Kintsugi, and Thank You For Today, which have had many singles featured on college radio stations in the past few years. Though, each album remains enjoyable to loyal fans, as the themes and song elements are familiar, despite their differences. Asphalt Meadows, which comes out September 16th, is a complete mystery to fans, as no one is certain what direction the band will go in with their sound. Though based on past releases, there is faith amongst fans that this release will not disappoint.