Many “hipsters” claim that Death Cab for Cutie offers no real artistic merit. Even more so, these critics claim that after “Soul Meets Body” helped the band hit it big, Death Cab was a completely sold out band, showing only pandering in hopes of further sales. I daresay that Narrow Stairs ought to force the conversation in a different direction. This is a fairly difficult album for the “masses” that the band was assumed to be targeting.
Cases in point: the first two singles. “I Will Possess Your Heart” appears on the radio as an average length, enjoyable tune. However, those brave souls who experience the song on the album find a long, winding journey of instrumental bliss that precedes the actual “proper” song. And it is this part of the song that really shines. Nearly on par with the work of Mogwai, Death Cab for Cutie flexes quite an artistic muscle in putting together this eight-minute twenty six-second epic. A similar sense of daring can be seen in the second single, “Cath.” Instead of offering a challenging musical structure, the lyrical content reaches a very mature conclusion. “Cath” details the relationship choices of the titular woman who chose to marry a man out of fear, not love. Instead of judging her actions, the band notes that, given the same situation, “they’d have done the same as you [Cath].” This thoughtful observation creates a powerful narrative that is far deeper than any mere popular creation.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the rest of the songs impress. The light yet crushing songs are brilliant and among the best released in Death Cab for Cutie’s catalogue. Perhaps even more important in the context of a complete album, the final track is absolutely stunning. “The Ice is Getting Thinner” will crush your heart and keep you brining back to the band over and over.