In 1994, Sunny Day Real Estate released their first offering, simply titled Diary. The formula, which was quite creative at the time, spawned the now-overused genre title of “emo.” Every single band who combined jangly verses and big distorted choruses with “heartfelt” vocals got slapped with the “emo” tag. Personally, I can’t see how this accomplished much of anything.
Consider The Promise Ring, who produced one great album (Nothing Feels Good) before scrapping large chunks of their creative base in exchange for catchiness and generic pop structures. Following the same pattern, Blake Schwarzenbach went from the semi-legendary Jawbreaker to the mostly boring Jets To Brazil. Even Sunny Day’s last album sounded like they were overdosing on Rush; compared to the beauty of How It Feels to Be Something On, The Rising Tide was pretty stagnant.
What does this have to do with Death Cab for Cutie? The vocals are the main relation to Sunny Day and its peers. Take Jeremy Enigk’s voice, subtract the histrionics and some of the breathiness, and you have something similar to the voice of Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard. However, the similarities stop there.
Instead of the same recycled song structures, we have songs such as the EP’s opener, “Photobooth.” Beginning with a cheap keyboard-esque electronic beat, the band enters with Gibbard’s wistful, romantic lyrics. A restrained verse with simple guitar lines leads to a killer chorus. No distortion is to be found, the song speaks for itself. “Song for Kelly Huckaby” is even better. The guitars become overdriven and distortion-soaked, but the restraint still lingers. The verse strikes raw emotional nerves that are seemingly untouchable: “Photographs of the best time you had/Windows smudged by the speed…” The EP’s reasonable price is automatically justified by these two songs alone.
The rest of Forbidden Love doesn’t reach such lofty heights, but isn’t bad either. Two songs are remade from the band’s last full-length, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes. “405 (Acoustic)” takes a decent song and slows it down with the acoustic setting. It’s a nice song that wasn’t really improved upon other than sounding different than the album version. An alternate version of “Company Calls Epilogue” also appears. Probably the darkest song on We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, the lyrics, about a drunken man reminiscing about crashing a former flame’s wedding, are made even more haunting with extra echo and distant instruments. Finally, “Technicolor Girls” is the lone weak spot. The song structure is slow and drags out a bit too long, but the rest of the songs make it easy to use the CD player’s “Skip” button.
Death Cab for Cutie contains some stereotypical elements of emo, but their unique lyrics and sheer creativity take them to a higher level. Emotional without being cliched, Forbidden Love is a hopeful sign that the band’s new album this fall will be just as resonant.
Written by Chris Martin.