Benjamin Gibbard - Former Lives

As a huge Death Cab for Cutie fan, and a fan of Ben Gibbard’s voice in general, I was very excited to hear his solo stuff. Then I listened to it. My first impression: unimpressed.

Album opener Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby is quirky and interesting: it’s a capella, and seems to be Ben’s own voice singing all the different parts layered over each other. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from then on. The next few tracks, namely Dream Song and Teardrop Windows, reminded me of Death Cab. A lot. And not even in a good way. It seems like Ben has formed a blander, uninteresting version of Death Cab and ripped off their sound. The comparisons don’t stop there. Mid-album track Lily is a super-cute love song, but reminds me too much of Death Cab’s acoustic songs like I Will Follow You Into The Dark.

Next up is Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke). It has a weird title but I really like it. The addition of a Mariachi band makes it stand out; it’s different and new and fun, and it had me doing a little dance in my seat. “Brilliant,” I thought, “it seems that things are looking up.” Then Duncan, Where Have You Gone? came on, sounding like the illegitimate musical lovechild of band of Horses and Death Cab. In the worst way ever. It’s terrible. The following few songs are listenable, but I just can’t get past the fact that they all sound like Death Cab.

The last song on the album, I’m Building A Fire, is more along the lines of what I was expecting the album to sound like. Lovely and acoustic, with just Ben Gibbard and a guitar. It’s such a shame that Ben didn’t make the other songs on the album sound more like this one: this and Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke) prove that he can make great music without immediately being associated with Death Cab. They’re both excellent tracks.

Overall, I’m dissatisfied with Former Lives. It’s disappointing when artists go off and do their solo thing but just end up sounding like the band they are most notably associated with. There are too many different styles creeping in throughout the album, like the obvious country influences in Broken Yolk in Western Sky; everyone is allowed to experiment musically, but here they just don’t seem to fit and the album feels less coherent. That, and pretty much every song sounds, in some way, like a Death Cab song. At least he’s moved on from The Postal Service, and there are no similarities with them as far as I am aware.

Former Lives in general is familiar and nice, but it doesn’t sound like anything I haven’t heard before. Even the album cover is reminiscent of Death Cab’s Narrow Stairs. I appreciate that Ben wanted to go off and do his own thing, and make this more of a personal pursuit, but in all honesty the collection sounds like cast-offs  from a Death cab album. A distinctly average album with a couple of gems hidden in there.

Former Lives by Benjamin Gibbard is out on the 12th of November through City Slang.


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