Sound Check: Benjamin Gibbard’s Former Lives
By Morgan Miller
3 Stars, Best Track: “Bigger Than Love”
After 15 years of working with Death Cab for Cutie, lead singer Benjamin Gibbard released his first solo album, Former Lives. The distinct soft sound of his voice takes listeners on a journey through his struggles and triumphs over the past eight years of his songwriting career.
Unlike many solo albums that crash and burn, Death Cab for Cutie fans will not be disappointed with the familiar sound of Former Lives. Gibbard showcases his natural talent through his well-played string and percussion to his intimate lyrics, while still keeping the gentle sound fans love.
In an interview with NPR, Gibbard sheds light on his unique style of songwriting.
“I live in a state of ghosts always being around me, and night by night, at least in small part, kind of reliving different corners of my life,” Gibbard said.
Rather than digging deep into his own struggles, he expresses them by telling stories of others.
The underrated song “Lady Adelaide” tells the tragic story of an emotionless girl who lives a fearful life.
The lyrics are strong and are complimented by the soft strumming of Gibbard on his guitar.
Beginning simply with “Shepherds Bush Lullaby,” Gibbard harmonizes with himself through the single-verse song. Much like the rest of the album, lyrics are clear and dreary, floating along smoothly through the short track. Lacking a chorus, the poetic song speaks of what he is doing; singing a capella. The start of the album is deceiving, leading into more complicated subjects.
“Hard One to Know” reflects Gibbard’s frustration in relationships; this is exemplified in the chorus of the song,“I toss and turn but I just can’t get sleep/ when I start thinking ‘bout what you do to me.” The track is acoustic and surprisingly fast-paced, standing out from the rest of the album.
Gibbard teams up with Aimee Mann, well-known American rock musician and singer, on his most popular single “Bigger than Love.” Based on his history in recording away from the band with artists such as Feist and The Postal Service, it is no surprise this single is strong. The two singers match each other’s voices flawlessly, almost making it difficult to tell who is singing and when. Playing the parts of an old couple, Gibbard and Mann reflect on the highs and lows of the relationship while reinforcing their unshakable love, repeating the phrase, “It’s bigger than love, brighter than all the stars combined/ It’s dwarfing the sun, burning within my heart and mind.”
There are some weak moments in the album. Songs such as “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” lack in lyrical creativity. Gibbard’s echoing voice makes the song drag on longer than it should, repeating average lyrics such as, “Duncan where have you gone, it’s been so, so long.”
The instrumentals in “Oh Woe” are chaotic and out of place, masking the unoriginal lyrics. The fuzzy and clanging instruments are a distraction from the lyrics and shift awkwardly from simple melodies to up-beat electric guitar.
Overall, Former Lives is a strong album with simple instrumentals and lyrics that fans can relate to. Gibbard shows his diversity in songwriting while still keeping the sound he is known for.