Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (his latest projects with Subpop as The Postal Service is also great) is quickly becoming the ‘voice’ of indie pop in the early 21st century. While the likes of Coldplay and Radiohead continue to fill arenas, their sense of immediacy and intimacy is built on a false assumption – that stadium sized success denotes a level of authenticity. Granted, their respective paranoias (Chris Martin of Coldplay voicing the discontent with relationships and Thom Yorke of Radiohead Luddite-like fearing of technology eclipsing the human spirit) ring true with many folks, Ben Gibbard is following a different path both sonically and spirituality – he seems to believe that the world is somehow a fundamentally happy place. Take the opening track from their breakthrough CD “Transatlanticism” – “The New Year”. While the lyrics describe a level of discontent and ill-ease with the advent of a new beginning (“So this is the New Year/and I don’t feel any different…”) – it is the hope of something more and the possibility of connection (“i wish the world was flat like the old days/then i could travel just by folding a map/no more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways/there’d be no distance that can hold us back”) that ends the song amidst glacial open chord guitar riffs that build towards conclusion rather than dissonance.
Like his sonic forefather Art Garfunkel, Ben Gibbard has a gentle, childlike quality to his voice that offers an uncluttered purity grounded in simplicity – akin to the wonder found in hearing the opening strains of the young soloist in Handel’s “Comfort Ye My People” from The Messiah amidst a half-lit room. As cynical as we may be, the simple purity of the voice draws us in to a hope often too painful to admit to in our tempest tossed world. We need voices like Ben Gibbard at times more than well turned words that can convey a wonder and a contentment in its sound – a voice without regret and a willingness to laugh in ways we somehow sacrificed after we left Eden in the dust.
To listen to Ben Gibbard’s prophetic reflections on the deep meaning found in car glove compartments, check out the Mp3 of “Title and Registration” available from Death Cab For Cutie (go to ‘media’ on the toolbar at the bottom of the website).