Album Review: Benjamin Gibbard - 'Former Lives'

30 September 2012 | 2:54 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

A side story not a new chapter.

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How do you begin to explain Benjamin Gibbard? It is safe to say that he is one of the finest artists of this generation and arguably one of the greatest lyricists/song-writers to ever live. Sound over the top? Listen to any record from his main project, Death Cab For Cutie, and then disagree with those comments. Need further proof? The Postal Service. Nuff said.

After fifteen years of releasing Death Cab records, Gibbard has finally made a record in his own name, which he describes as a side story rather than a new chapter. The songs were written over an eight year period meaning a lot of ground is covered in a mere twelve tracks.

Musically things don't stray too far from Death Cab territory which does beg the question, why even bother with a solo record? But the answer comes down to the lyrics, which are far more personal than Gibbard has been before, dealing with the various relationships which have come and gone during the writing period, one of which was a marriage.

There are of course a few surprises that the freedom of making a solo record will allow, the a cappella opening track 'Shepard's Bush Lullaby', which shows off Gibbard's unique voice and sense of melody. Another is album stand out is 'Something's Rattling', a Mariachi tinged salsa number, which is completely unlike anything Gibbard has produced before, but still very much his own.

As well as love lost, many of these songs are influenced by locations, having travelled plenty and even moving house a few times, Gibbard's home town of Seattle is only given one song, 'Teardrop Windows', written about the Smith Tower. His new home of Los Angeles is credited for a few songs, but most of all the entire album, which the song writer claims was given the green light by the artistic inspiration given to him by the city.

Other notable moments are the shimmering duet with Aimme Mann, 'Bigger Than Love', which is written about a book of old love letters written by Scott and Ella Fitzgerald and 'Duncan, Where Have You Gone?', a melody heavy piano ballad.

Benjamin Gibbard is one of those rare artists who excels in every project he attempts, regardless of its genre. Here on 'Former Lives' however, he sounds more comfortable than ever, a little more open than usual, and above all, as brilliant as always.

1. Shepherd's Bush Lullaby
2. Dream Song
3. Teardrop Windows
4. Bigger Than Love
5. Lily
6. Something's Rattling
7. Duncan, Where Have You Gone?
8. Oh, Woe
9. A Hard One To Know
10. Lady Adelaide
11. Broken Yolk in Western Sky

12. I'm Building a Fire