Death Cab for Cutie have everything it takes to be the next universally appreciated pop band in indie rock, following groups like Pavement, Superchunk, and Built to Spill. If they release more records like We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, they no doubt will be. Unlike all of those bands, though, Death Cab for Cutie is not interested in becoming guitar heroes, stepping through their songs at a snail's pace to best fit the general sorrow of the vocals.
Like Malkmus and MacCaughan, Death Cab for Cutie's lyrics are poetic and appear nonsensical, singer Benjamin Gibbard turning almost every verse into a metaphor. However, unlike those two bands (give or take an album about a breakup), much is hidden under Gibbard's colorful, cryptic prose. The album turns out to be, although it takes much inspection and time to figure it out, a concept album, each song detailing a different part of a relationship not meant to be.
"Title Track" opens the album with a muffled guitar and drum sound paralleling the muffled thinking of the singer as he shares an evening and a cigarette with a female friend. As the muffle is removed from the sound, a clangy guitar sound bursts out, while "call response overturns convictions every time" and the night of conversation turns physical. Before the moment has even started, Gibbard is already into regret, but he retains some hope.
That hope is quickly killed two songs later in "For What Reason." The song takes a nimble bass line, harsh guitars, and lots of noise to add to the bitterness of Gibbard lashing out at the woman for being "so slick with that sarcastic slew of phrases like 'I thought you knew,' while keeping me in hot pursuit." Maybe he did know, but hearing her say it doesn't make him feel any better
Hopes and desires crushed, the story takes a detour as Gibbard takes to the road for the songs "Lowell, MA" (named after Jack Kerouac's hometown for obvious reasons), "405," and "Little Fury Bugs," using the free time for introspection.
The climax of the story happens over the pair "Company Calls" and "Company Calls Epilogue," when the listener finds out why this relationship was doomed from the start: the woman is engaged to be married. "Company Calls" is the most buoyant pop song on the album, Gibbard knowing what he wants to say, shouting "Set your sights to sink this partyline, 'cause it's so tired." The metaphor of political parties links back to the "Title Track," when the affair was seen as forming a splinter group. Now the singer continues the thread, pleading for the woman to "destroy this mock shrine." However, Gibbard isn't able to convey these thoughts, or, rather, he decides he cannot. "The figures on your wedding cake" do not represent him so he decides he must keep his distance, "mail(ing) a postcard sending greetings from the Eastern Block" instead of crashing the wedding.
In the "...Epilogue," the guitar sound becomes almost mournful as Gibbard shows up at the wedding, merely a guest at the celebration for the death of his dreams. He wishes he could drunkenly crash the festivities and let his feelings be known, but he can't and won't "spit it out when the date's been set. The white routine to be ingested inaccurately."
The music Death Cab for Cutie creates is catchy and pure, and the story it weaves is touching and honest, the two working in tandem to a heightened degree of expressiveness that words alone cannot attain. If the band has a flaw, it's that with all those other bands that have achieved such widespread adoration in indie rock which they may or may not be following in the footsteps of, Death Cab's music may also be following too closely. However, sometimes you must forgive any lack of expansion in the genre and just admire skilled craftsmanship as art. For ...We're Voting Yes, Death Cab for Cutie has expertly assembled and finely tuned ten pop machines to form one great pop album.