Death Cab for Cutie: The Open Door EP (Album Review)
Though The Open Door is an extension of Narrow Stairs (the five songs were recorded with the Narrow Stairs set but didn’t make it onto the final album), the EP hums with an electricity all its own. As the title suggests, The Open Door is full of fresh air, wide spaces and rollicking melodies—a welcome change from the tangled Big Sur woods and claustrophobia of Narrow Stairs.
“Little Bribes” throws the doors wide with Chris Walla’s blues-fueled licks that alternatively melt into reverb and dance off in detailed frets. Gibbard’s first line, “The Eiffel Tower built to smaller scale, the freshest oxygen I ever inhaled,” floats atop the scorching riffs. While Narrow Stairs began with descent (“I descended a dusty gravel ridge”), The Open Door begins atop a tower.
But from such a vantage point, there’s no place to go but down. “A Diamond and A Tether,” despite it’s light, airy melody, descends into Gibbard’s own personal brand of paranoia, Thom Yorke-like in its intensity. “Pity, take pity on me, cause I’m not half the man that I should to be” sings Gibbard, introducing the On the Road tension from Narrow Stairs again; the bonds of commitment versus the freedom of a Kerouac-esque lifestyle. On the next track, Gibbard croons, “I always fall in love with an open door…’till I look around at those who are standing right in front of me.” The album fades out with Narrow Stairs’ “Talking Bird” and the tension of home vs. freedom stretched to a snapping point, underscored by a quiet guitar lilt: “It’s all here for you, as long as you don’t fly away…”
The Open Door showcases Death Cab’s trademark anxiety, but pounding beats dial up the intensity from Narrow Stairs, distancing the band from the lo-fi, Neutral Milk Hotel influences of early years and bouncing them toward pop. Gibbard’s famous longing—the feeling Death Cab fans inhale like crack and non-fans place at arm’s length with the nondescript term “emo”—is believable in the light of such a contrast. When fresh air and open space are just outside the window, they’re more attractive than when they’re far above the dense, knotted woods.