After making it through the rough time that surrounded Death Cab for Cutie’s last record, Kintsugi – made after frontman Ben Gibbard’s divorce and just before the departure of founding member Chris Walla – the band sounds rejuvenated on Thank You for Today. They’ve added two new members, guitarist Dave Depper and keyboardist Zac Rae, to their lineup and they allowed themselves to take some risks like indulging pop production techniques on the record, which they made with Kintsugi producer Rich Costey.
Right from the start on lead track, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” they experiment with a light, trip-hoppy beat, chimes and ethereal sounds that fade in and out as Gibbard, whose voice is obscured throughout, sings about an imagined encounter with someone. A couple of songs later, on the single “Gold Rush,” they use a sample from Yoko Ono’s 1971 song “Mind Train” for a heavily textured song about seeing their hometown being gentrified beyond recognition. It sounds like a pop bid but it retains enough of the classic Death Cab experience – ruminations on loss and unrequited romance set to moody melodies – that it never sounds disingenuous.
There are more traditional-sounding tracks on the album (“Your Hurricane,” “Autumn Love”) but the tunes where the group stretches out that are the most interesting. They experiment with lush synth beds and a guitar tone that owes a debt to Robert Fripp’s on David Bowie’s “Heroes” on their “When We Drive,” they indulge their influences on “Northern Lights,” which splits the difference between Joy Division and early U2 and the piano ballad “60 and Punk” about letting go of the illusion of coolness and growing up.
The only missteps are “You Moved Away,” which is to twee take seriously (“You sold your records by the pile/They were only yours for a while”) and “Near/Far,” which leans a little heavily on a late-Eighties pop sensibility with music that sounds a bit like the Traveling Wilburys perhaps in a way they hadn’t intended. But Thank You shows that as long as Gibbard feels haunted about one thing or another, he and his bandmates should be able to conjure up an appropriate soundtrack.