Matson on Music
Album review: Benjamin Gibbard's 'Former Lives'
Benjamin Gibbard "Former Lives" (Barsuk)
It's significant that Ben Gibbard, from longstanding Seattle band Death Cab for Cutie, is going by "Benjamin" now on his new solo album, and that it's released on Barsuk, the Seattle label where Death Cab started back in 1998. The project is a new thing requiring a new name, recalling a time before Death Cab jumped to worldwide fame around the turn of the millennium. Gibbard put out a solo album back in 1997, the quirky, cutesy "All Time Quarterback." This one is similar. His airy, earnest vocals offer low-stakes singer-songwriter fare full of sentimental indulgences. His trademark sweetness and tightly strummed chords are in full effect. But there's an unexpected dress-up energy — the lonesome, Mariachi-lite of "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)," for instance — that veers sharply from Death Cab's muted anthem rock. Elsewhere, on "Bigger Than Love," Gibbard expertly replicates Death Cab's geometric guitar rock sound, but throws a curveball with steely, introverted singer Aimee Mann cast as the lead. These types of moves build in "Former Lives" to the point where Gibbard comes off as actor/director as much as singer-songwriter — a familiar voice playing with obscuring itself.