In October 2007, Chris Walla, producer and guitarist, said that Death Cab for Cutie’s new album “is in full swing; we’re six songs in.” He went on to say “thus far it’s pretty weird and pretty spectacular; lots of blood. It’s creepy and heavy… we’ve got a ten minute long Can jam, and had you suggested that possibility to me in 1998, I’d have eaten your puppy’s brain with a spoon.” In a Billboard piece, Walla promised a “curve ball” and described the album: “It’s really weird. It’s really, really good, I think, but it’s totally a curve ball, and I think it’s gonna be a really polarizing record. But I’m really excited about it. It’s really got some teeth. The landscape of the thing is way, way more lunar than the urban meadow sort of thing that has been happening for the last couple of records.” Walla went on to say, “[It’s also] louder and more dissonant and … I think abrasive would be a good word to use. [We were influenced by] heavy, sludgy, slow metal [and] synth-punk band Brainiac.” Ben Gibbard, lead singer and writer, commented, “I just don’t feel like we really have anything to prove of it other than to ourselves and to making a record we really enjoy.”
The lead single, “I Will Possess Your Heart” was released on March 18, 2008, and the band released the single on their MySpace page shortly thereafter. The song began radio play on March 24, 2008.
Apple’s iTunes music store opened pre-orders for the album on March 19, 2008.
On March 31, a fake version of the album was “leaked” on a music blog and spread to various torrent sites as an April Fool’s prank with only “I Will Possess Your Heart” correct of all the Narrow Stairs songs named. The rest of the songs were by German indie band Velveteen, but due to the two bands having a very similar sound, some fans weren’t sure at first if the files were in fact fake.
On May 6, 2008 the album was released on iTunes a week early, but was set back to pre-order status the next day.
Several of the songs have literary or cultural themes. Grapevine Fires appears to be centered around the wildfires that raged in California during the summer and fall of 2007. Bixby Canyon Bridge is rife with references to Jack Kerouac’s writing; Gibbard often notes that Kerouac is a favorite author in interviews, and Bixby was written during the artist’s recent trip to Big Sur. Gibbard has written lyrics about Kerouac before - notably, his contribution of lyrics and vocals to a song by Styrofoam titled couches in alleys. In Death Cab for Cutie’s 2000 album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes notably, there is a song titled Lowell, MA. Lowell, Massachusetts is where Kerouac was born. Furthermore the album’s Title Track makes a reference to Kerouac’s poem “October in the Railroad Earth.” Many fans have noted that Gibbard’s lyrics on Narrow Stairs are largely more straightforward and easier to interpret than on past records. The 10th song Pity and Fear ends abruptly. In an interview the band stated that the ending was supposed to sound a bit like the recording but actually the tape machine they were using broke toward the ending. The cover art was created by designer EE Storey.
The album has received mostly positive reviews. MTV’s James Montgomery referred to Narrow Stairs as “unquestionably the best thing [Death Cab has] ever done”. In another positive review, Rolling Stone called the album “a dark, strangely compelling record that trades the group’s bright melancholy for something nearer to despair.”
The album has so far been highly rated by critics and fans, having been awarded 4 stars out of 5 by publications such as Rolling Stone, Kerrang!, Spin, Alternative Press, The Times, The Independent and The Guardian, as well as by the website All Music Guide.
Time Magazine and Consequence of Sound both awarded the album a “B+” rating, with the AV Club giving an “A” rating, while positive reviews have also been given by Mojo, People, Pitchfork Media, The Album Project, Patrol, AbsolutePunk and PopMatters, among several others. It has a rating of 74 on music review aggregator Metacritic.
In its debut week, Narrow Stairs reached the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 144,000 copies and scoring the band its first #1 album. One week later it fell to #5 with 52,000 copies. It has so far sold 374,068 copies in the US.
The final track on the album, The Ice Is Getting Thinner, is used in the final episode of the hit TV series Gossip Girl during an emotional scene between two of the lead characters, Serena van der Woodsen and Dan Humphrey.
Edited by acreature on 27 Aug 2008, 17:09
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