Songwriters are funny about what they keep, share, discard or rework, little bits of history and creativity that exist in an odd kind of creative offspring foster home. The twelve songs that make up the eagerly anticipated debut from Ben Gibbard are "a side story, not a new chapter" says the Death Cab For Cutie mainman, perhaps squelching any fears that his Cutie persona may take a back seat to a solo stint. For Gibbard the songs that make up Former Lives (October 16, Barsuk) have been assembled for a particular reason unto himself, a mixed bag of safe, mostly splendid alt-pop, retro styles (Beatles, Nick Lowe) and an overall "adult" feel lyrically and sonically. There's nothing dramatically different or even rapturous about these dozen tracks in either production or songcraft but that's not to say that gems like "Bigger Than Love", his inspired duet with Aimee Mann, or the jangly "Teardrop Windows" don't make the trip worth the time and effort. This is journeyman indie-pop fare, deftly written and performed (by Gibbard himself) but without the wow factor; a musical journal comprised of various chapters that don't seek to marvel as much as simply reveal. "These songs span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking," says Gibbard, an outlook that's echoed in songs that perhaps arrive more out of necessity to psychologically expunge the past than the desire for the new.
Ben Gibbard - "Bigger Than Love" (with Aimee Mann) (from Former Lives)
Ben Gibbard - "Teardrop Windows" (from Former Lives)