“Asphalt Meadows” Diversifies the Indie Genre


“Asphalt Meadows” was released Sep. 16, 2022 on all streaming platforms. (Courtesy of Instagram)

After a nearly four-year hiatus, indie-pop outfit Death Cab for Cutie is back with new music. 

“Asphalt Meadows” has widened the range of the Washington-based group’s sound. Guitar-pop, rock and soothing indie tunes are packed into this 11-track album. Exploring ideas of perseverance and desperation, “Asphalt Meadows” meshes the Death Cab for Cutie of last century with its modern counterpart. 

The album hits the ground running with the opening tracks “I Don’t Know How I Survive” and “Roman Candles” featuring upbeat rhythms. The former begins with a classic guitar riff, reminiscent of their past track “Cath,” and continues into something of a beat drop later. “I Don’t Know How I Survive” is easily the most rock-sounding track of the bunch, and definitely the fastest-paced. Similarly, “Roman Candles” turns up the bass and drums, and doesn’t quite let the brilliant vocals of Ben Gibbard shine. Ironically, this is one of the most popular songs on the album according to its “starred” status on Apple Music. This is my least favorite track on the album. 

The title track, “Asphalt Meadows” does what “Roman Candles” should have done. It provides Gibbard room to breathe early, resulting in the best chorus of the album, which blends guitar, drums and vocals in just the right doses. 

Drummer Jason McGerr stands out in these tracks, setting the tone and rhythm well. McGerr gets his time to shine in later track “I Miss Strangers,” a certain middle ground that allows spectacular drum work to fuel the chorus with pulsating energy and does much more than just set the table with his drumming. What makes this track unique, is that it includes plenty of space for Gibbard to command the listener’s attention. 

Over the years, Death Cab has developed an increasingly synthetic sound, a move that seems to correlate with Gibbard’s stint with his side project, The Postal Service. This is especially evident in Death Cab’s 2018 album “Thank You for Today,” which is my personal favorite of theirs. 

The album “Asphalt Meadows” doesn’t exactly continue this trend through its entirety, but one can listen to “Rand McNally” and “Fragments From the Decade” and hear such overtones. “Rand McNally” executes its keyboard sounds to a tee with lyrics that dip into Americana. “Fragments” tries to do what tracks of old such as “Transatlanticism” do so well: test the listener’s patience with atmospheric guitar riffs. However, instead of employing the strings of past member Chris Walla, “Fragments” relies on an electronic background that doesn’t quite fit well with the style of the song. 

“Wheat Like Waves” contains Gibbard’s best vocal work of the album, and is also the only track written entirely by Gibbard himself, outside of “I Don’t Know How I Survive.” However, “Wheat” doesn’t rely solely on Gibbard’s vocals. In this song, electronic musical techniques are used appropriately, giving Gibbard a slight auto-tune that matches the background electric guitar. 

The main weaknesses of the album lie first in what it has, but also in what it doesn’t.  At times, an overwhelming rock sound early on is not to my liking, but it is more than made up for towards the end of the album. It seems that Death Cab wants to widen their brush and expand their style, which is welcomed if done so in a manner that doesn’t mix paints that don’t go together to make ugly colors. 

“Asphalt Meadows” also lacks a “smooth headbanger,” if you will. Such examples include “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” off of the album Kintsugi, and “Northern Lights” off of “Thank You for Today.” While one could certainly classify “I Don’t Know How I Survive” as a headbanger, it would be dishonest to categorize it as smooth. “I’ll Never Give Up On You” is the smoothest track on the album, but in no way can it get you in a position to break your neck. 

Strengths? “Wheat Like Waves” for all 3 minutes and 39 seconds of its glory. Ironically, I think it serves as a great introduction to Death Cab. “Asphalt Meadows” gives listeners a feel for a lot of different tastes, and doesn’t necessarily confine itself to a specific sub-genre of the broader genre of indie music.