Bellingham's Death Cab for Cutie, formed by lead singer Ben Gibbard in 1997, makes music so ravishing and beautifully fragile, it should only exist within a dream. The Photo Album, their third full-length release, combines their characteristic ethereal and emotionally intense lyrics and vocals, combined with an intense yet concealed feeling of progress and fiercely dazzling determination.
Many of these songs are akin to open wounds; Gibbard's lyrics, however, move beyond mere bewailing of loss, anguish, frustration, and disappointment, to a sense of precarious self-assurance and a consciousness of art's role as an incredibly potent savior.
Perhaps the most visceral and graceful song on the album, "Styrofoam Plates," details the refusal to mourn a dead father, who was "not quite a father but a donor of seeds to a poor, single mother that would raise us alone." It is impossible to ignore or forget these lyrics. Within these ten songs, nothing is escapable and the possibilities of love cannot be denied. "You're blacking out the friction. It's just an escape," Gibbard sings on "Blacking Out the Friction," and it's clear that passivity and fear are combining to create a subtly detailed yet brutal sense of anguish.
Listening to these songs is like watching small birds outside your window. You cannot even breathe, for fear they will fly away; the moment is fleeting, yet you feel graced and privileged to have witnessed such delicate affirmations of the world's beauty. The Photo Album is like that, delving into love and pain with equal abandon. Close your eyes, listen, and hold your breath. It's worth it.