For a first foray into work fully by himself Ben really tossed out some good stuff. A lot of it are songs that fans of Death Cab have gotten to listen to for awhile now at live shows and such, but for the most part no one has heard these songs and they aren't the subject of much attention. They should be though. Ben (Benjamin? Really man, we all know its you) has gotten an opportunity that is long overdue. Between Death Cab for Cutie's discography, the album with Jay Ferrar as a soundtrack to the novel Big Sur (One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Music From Kerouac's Big Sur), and the ever iconic Give Up from the Postal Service (seriously, fans clamor for a second album from that duo like salivating animals) Ben has established himself as a simplistic yet personal lyricist and singer that reminds us all of the simpler aspects of life while the world flies by around you. Songs like "Passenger Seat" or the amazing "Brand New Colony" are amazing and this album has added a set of disjointed but excellent tracks to his set. In fact the only thing that makes this album anything less than perfect is that they are all odd and different experiments that don't always perfectly flow, but the songs hold up on their own for the most part.
1. Shepherd's Bush Lullaby - 6/10: This is a bit of an odd opener and my least favorite song on the album. Its ok, but it just layers Ben's voice on top of itself to create a bit of a an acapella group effect. Its a decent idea, but not as well executed as I'd hoped for. Lyrically its fun and enjoyable, its just not the most amazing song and shows us nothing that would have earned its attention on this album.
2. Dream Song - 8/10: Excellent song, would have been happy having this open the album. Its a floaty, fun little song that very much embodies its title. This is one of the songs most indicative of Death Cab, and will ease fans into Ben's solo work (though if you're a fan I'm guessing, like many I know, you already worship the ground he walks on and won't need to be eased into it).
3. Teardrop Windows - 8/10: Doesn't get more emo than this lyrically. A song about a man alone, crying out his window, feeling blue, its all here in Ben's first single from the album. Its still an excellent track, but it can feel a little sad. What helps are the instrumentals and tone, which are lighthearted and fun to contrast the subject material. It is the first of his solo songs to not have that 'Death Cab' feel to it in awhile and its honestly kind of refreshing.
4. Bigger than Love - 7/10: Another good song, but I was surprised when I first listened. Aimee Mann makes an appearance on this one and she helps it stand out, but it doesn't make it one of the better tracks on the album. Instead it kind of makes it awkward and adds the the feeling of disjointed. Now having said that it is an adorable little duet with one of independent music's most beloved little stars and it makes for a wonderful little love track. A lot of little hipster couples are going to be playing this together and listening to it in coffee shops with one earbud apiece. Get used to this one, its going to be around awhile.
5. Lily - 7/10: Basically a big list of all the things Lily is to him. Its a decent song, but I found nothing special in it. Keeps with the idea of the album, some lyrical and instrumental experimentation outside of his basic comfort zone.
6. Something's Rattling - 8/10: Another pleasant little song, lyrically about how pleasant the summer air is making him. There are hints of country in here, but nothing that comes to fruition (that comes later on the album). Another one that doesn't stand way out, just hangs in there.
7. Duncan, Where Have You Gone? - 9/10: This is where the album truly begins to take off. This is a sad little song about a man with a broken heart, and a friend trying to send him comfort. I thought that this was where Ben began to hit his stride musically and you can really tell more of a coherency from here on. The music is just fantastic, really sets a tone and a mood with the lyrics.
8. Oh, Woe - 10/10: I love this song more than any other on the album. Its perfect. Fun lyrics, exciting presentation, this is pure Ben and you can hear it in the music. A fusion of his Postal Service vocal leanings, his Death Cab b-side instrumentals (Little Bribes anyone?) and it all mixes for just a powerful performance.
9. A Hard One to Know - 9/10: Another song that very much reminds you of how Ben Gibbard can put normality in a personal and frustrating tone, this song is about a woman who is very inconsistent and sends mixed messages (probably talking about Zoey Deschanel on this one...). Its similar to Oh, Woe in terms of music and sound and I love it.
10. Lady Adelaide - 9/10: Another fun song, but with a bit more heavy of a tone. A poor woman named Adelaide that never got to hear she was loved from anyone. Its a really sad song, but again another odd performance from Ben that winds up being one of his best songs outside of Death Cab. Really odd overlay in the background that I wasn't ready for, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The hover reminds me a lot of the same background sound in Teardrop Windows.
11. Broken Yolk in Western Sky - 8/10: Just...what the heck? A very...very twangy country song but with Ben's normal vocals soaring over it, this is without a doubt the oddest piece put forth on the album. Its got a floating, high rising sound to it that evokes the feel of sitting outside your house cooking sausage and eggs for breakfast before you head out to cut down trees for the lumber yard or to wrangle cattle. Just an odd piece that you get, and even though I despise country music it really does work as a song.
12. I'm Building a Fire - 10/10: An acoustic closing track that is basically about Ben dying while his loved one watches. He builds her a fire and then lays down to die while she watches him pass, but at least she's comfortably warm while he does. Very sad song but excellent album closer.
Overall a disjointed but incredible set of songs from Mr. Gibbard. I'm a fanboy on this guy, so I completely dig what he's doing with the music. I wouldn't mind him having another foray into the solo realm but since he says he's recording with Death Cab again it could be awhile. This is a must buy for any fan of his work with other groups or those just interested in hearing a set of independent releases from a hipster king. You'll like this, I promise you.