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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 24 October 2015
This album initially doesn't appear as creative and appealing as the previous few albums (Plans, Transatlanticism) but after a few listens, certainly a few of the tracks shine amongst an otherwise 'average' album. Top tracks include Cath (which will immediately appeal to fans of the older, The Photo Album -era of Death Cab for Cutie and is a personal favourite), Bixby Canyon Bridge, Twin Sized Bed and Long Division. The more 'experimental' track, I Will Possess Your Heart is eerily atmospheric and certainly succeeds in creating the frosty scene it strives for - however the intro does not fare well with repeated listens, becoming rather repetitive and potentially quite skip-able.

Overall, if compared with the style of the previous albums, it may be disappointing in places, but as a darker sounding, simpler DCfC album, it is certainly worth the purchase for the tracks specified.
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on 14 February 2009
i've heard people say death cab have gone indie on this album and its
not as good as the other ones...
to me they are just as good as before ...
if not better on some tracks on this album
its a must buy for death cab fans, you wont be dissapointed.
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on 12 September 2016
Sadly my disc arrived with a scratch in it and the second half does not play from track 5 onwards.

Got my money back and reordered elsewhere.

Some great tracks, there are great high points but the ones inbetween let this disc down. Grapevine fires is a standout song and I will Possess your heart as well however I think the long intro works better on the Video clip.

The song You can do better than me really is the classic that a lot of restless guys (and Girls) can relate to. It is a bit bleak if you want an upbeat song try No Children by The Mountain Goats, but hey Upbeats songs are not in the Realm of DCFC. Good band Good album.
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on 13 June 2008
After crossing over from the indie ghetto into the US mainstream with last album `Plans' (platinum Stateside but largely unnoticed over here) Atlantic will be looking to `Narrow Stairs' to break DCfC in the UK. Despite that success, DCfC haven't sat back on their laurels and then put out `Plans II'. `Narrow Stairs' uses a broader musical palate than their earlier work and reflects the growing experience and ambition of lead guitarist and producer Chris Walla. These are songs that have a strong skeleton onto which the layers of instrumentation are built: Gibbard has said that he `made a conscious decision to sit down with the guitar and make sure they could all be played on an acoustic'. And in comparison with `Plans' there's a more spontaneous feel. `Narrow Stairs' still occupies the broad firmament of American indie, literate, melancholy, introspective, but this time out, there's an experimental edge to the music. Radiohead meets The National? Wilco meet Coldplay?

Lyrically however the songs here are almost unremittingly despairing, chronicling the loss of innocence and an increasing sense of pointlessness; the loss of idealism followed by despairing compromise. If there are relationships at all, they whither and die, but dreams of love have largely been replaced by attempts to ward off loneliness. As an insight into Gibbard's current state of mind, Narrow Stairs' paints a frightening picture, only confirmed by his subsequent musings. Fortunately the musical backdrop shows a lighter touch, or wrists would be slit before the final track fades.

Talking about Bixby Bridge Gibbard referred to `the romance of the road, particularly from Kerouac's work, encapsulated how I wanted to live'. He has also talked about the consequences of choosing to live in that way, for Kerouac and ultimately for himself: `...you end up with a series of failed relationships and you end up being an alcoholic...and not having any kind of real grip on the lives of the people around you. I run the risk of losing touch with the people in my life that mean the most to me because I have made the decision to live like this.' `Why did I think I was going to come here and have this place change my life?' he mused `I wanted it so badly. I wanted to cleanse myself with this place...' Expressing his sense of failure and confusion, he says: `The epiphany never came. I'm just as confused now as when I got here six months ago...I'd totally idealised what I'd be able to accomplish down here. At some point I thought that, as I got older, I'd come to terms with a lot of things. I'd solve some big problems, and eventually I'd become content. But I don't think that'll ever happen'. This internal turmoil and sense of desperation permeates the whole album from opening track "Bixby Canyon Bridge", where Gibbard's distinctive high tenor over muscular riffing narrates a trip in the footsteps of Kerouac, seeking enlightenment. Surely he muses, there must be more to life than this. But the sojourn ends in disillusion `...and I trudged back to where the car was parked, no closer to any kind of truth...'

On first single `I Will Possess Your Heart' a long percussive intro, repeats and builds, propelled by bass and drums overlaid with a simple repeated melodic fragment on keyboard and vibes. A rejected lover just can't let go, and his devotion is turning to obsession and possibly something darker. Gibbard has said this song is `about the inevitable disappointment people feel as they move through life, and things don't feel the way they expect. No experience will ever match up to the idealised version in your mind'.

`Cath...' is the first of a series of songs journaling the awful choices that we sometimes have to make in relationships. To compromise, and commit to someone who falls short of our ideal, or to allow our hearts to die. And Cath's choice seems particularly desperate to Gibbard who paints himself as someone who, had she but realised it, would have loved her. In a similar vein in `You can do better...' the protagonist recognises where he's well off, even though he's regularly tempted to stray, while `Your New Twin Sized Bed' with its hypnotically repeated chiming guitar figure offers the story of someone who has given up on ever finding a life partner. Seeing how defeated the subject is, the narrator is terrified by the awful thought of what his own future might hold. On `Pity and Fear' nameless partners of casual liaisons, entered into to dull the pain of loneliness, walk away apparently free from consequences while the protagonist sinks deeper and deeper.

On `No Sunlight' the bouncy summery music belies the lyrical content: the death of youthful innocence and optimism is followed by a desperate nihilistic despair, while `Grapevine Fires' offers some hopefulness amidst the blackness, because while it may only be `a matter of time before we all burn' the singer professes himself `content to spend that time here with you - there's nowhere I'd rather be'.

`The Ice Is Getting Thinner' is hardly a hopeful note on which to finish the album as Gibbard chronicles the slow demise of a relationship, as a couple grow apart, finding less and less in common but reluctant to say out loud what they know in their hearts, that the love that they shared is just an empty shell. Coloured by steel / slide guitar, this spare sparse piece comes as a relief after the relentlessly busy, driving, propulsive procession of songs that precede it.

'Narrow Stairs' is a step forward for a band that's continuing to develop, if not the giant leap that some were hoping for.
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on 21 July 2011
After finding this album recommended on iTunes I checked out the previews and liked what I heard. I have been listening to it for a couple of days and am still getting into it (I know its an old album). I am not massive on the indie scene but getting into it slowly. If I was choosing a favorite song it would be Cath.... So it is a good album but I doubt it will be up there in my top 20 albums even after some extensive listening.
UPDATE: This is actually a good album. It does take some listening to but yes it gets better the more you listen to it!
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on 15 February 2009
I don't know why this is so highly rated as this album is actually quite poor apart from the excellent 'Cath'.

I agree entirely with the reviewer who said that "those who jumped on board with Transatlantacism and Plans probably won't welcome the new influences very nicely. And ex-fans of their first few albums, will probably fall in love with 'Cath'".

These two earlier albums are far superior in every way. The "new influences" aren't doing them any favours at all.

If the whole album was upto the standard of 'Cath' I could understand the aclaim - but it isn't.
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on 27 February 2010
Death cab are one of those bands that consistently produce, solid emotional albums that leave you wanting more. If you like Death cab and want to expand your collection this is one of the must haves. Less commercial than Plans, but in some ways better for it. Check out the animated video for Grapevine fires on youtube. Can't recommend this album highly enough.
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on 16 December 2010
Overall, a pretty decent album. Some songs are a bit cliche but there are some real winners (Bixby Canyon Bridge, No Sunlight, I will possess your heart).
A good album from Death Cab.
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on 1 October 2009
This is a record I heard while in the states for two years and is definate grower. Remiinds me of long summer nights in illinois!
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on 14 May 2008
Secretly, nobody likes change. It's inherent in Humans to gravitate towards our comfort zones. But who knows where the world would be if it's residents didn't evolve, grow, move on and move out. Death Cab For Cutie understands this well enough. Scenesters still decry this once-loved Indie guitar-pop band for turning their backs against the underground and entering the major-label studio. But ultimately, two of Death Cab's most financially and critically successful works (Transatlantacism and Plans) came from this career trajectory. So for a band whose style (and gross income) has benefited so much from change, you'd think they'd be happy to welcome it back with open arms. But Narrow Stairs shows that, in reality, Ben Gibbard and co. are as apprehensive towards transformations as the next person.

The common consensus is that this is Death Cab's "experimental" album. But if you've grown attached to their current stream of OC-friendly guitar pop, you don't have to worry. Narrow Stairs' perceived experimentalism is more obvious in idea than in practice. "I Will Possess Your Heart" is probably the main source of the talk. It opens with 4 instrumental minutes of Can-esque jamming and spacious atmosphere led by a soulful bass riff. Also, "No Sunlight" and "Long Division" carry dense, intricate guitar-play and driving Neu!-style rhythms that distinguish them from typical Death Cab fare, yet still fit perfectly with their sing-along qualities. Even though "Pity and Fear" falls flat in it's attempt at traditional tabla-driven Indian music, Narrow Stairs' boldest tracks point to what could've been a spectacular new chapter in Death Cab's career.

But the biggest problem of the album is that the band seems so resistant to make the full-fledged leap into the unknown, even though they clearly have the capabilities. Too many tracks hide behind the same AM pop territory they hinted at with their last two albums. In particular, the mid-section spanning from "Talking Bird" to "Grapevine Fires" settles into a lazy lull of humdrum hooks. Even after getting back on track with the slinking beauty of "Your New Twin Sized Bed", "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" prevails as a completely underwhelming closer, filled with lifeless cliche that leaves the listeners asking themselves, "is that it?".

Any way you look at it, Narrow Stairs is a polarizing album. Death Cab's experiments are exciting enough to get previous detractors on board, but those people will undoubtedly be let down by the straightforward interior. Inversely, those who jumped on board with Transatlantacism and Plans probably won't welcome the new influences very nicely. And ex-fans of their first few albums, will probably fall in love with "Cath..." (which strongly recalls Something About Airplanes) but will be unimpressed with both their typical tracks and their new jams. If Death Cab had just applied to a single mode, they could've retained the focus that makes all of those aforementioned albums so great. Instead, what we have is a strange transitional work that offers small snapshots of the band's strengths and wide-scale landscape photos of their fears. (Aron Fischer)

For fans of: Built To Spill, Fleetwood Mac, Postal Service, Pedro The Lion, Menomena, John Vanderslice
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