Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album
Where Ben Gibbard finds his voice
This one goes to 11. The Photo Album is where this previously demure and somewhat reserved band gets a little swagger; it’s as loud as they’ve ever been, before or since, and finds a (by then) road-tested outfit truly flexing their muscle.
Perhaps emboldened by his band’s juiced up sound, Ben Gibbard finds his voice on The Photo Album, both lyrically and vocally. Maybe playing the wallflower was no longer an option; a shy and retiring singer would have gotten lost in Death Cab’s newfound storm and stress, so Gibbard grows up and, for lack of a better term, grows a pair.
The Photo Album sees the first examples of what would become something of a Gibbard trademark: the striking, detailed opening line as emotional hook. His voice is one of the first sounds you hear on the album (after a single stroke of a guitar chord) and he immediately begins a new and more assured career as a narrator, sketching out a vignette in lead track, “Steadier Footing,” that’s just specific enough to be true and just general enough to touch a listener.