It’s easy to mistake Death Cab For Cutie for an emo band because of their name and influence. Instead, the band lean into sweeping theatricality and poignant vignettes that unravel in their lyrics, making them a formidable unit with 10 studio albums to their name. One of those records, Transatlanticismturned 20 this year, and to ring in its release, Death Cab For Cutie announced a groundbreaking co-headlining tour with the Postal Service — another of Ben Gibbard’s groups that are also celebrating two decades of their one-off album, Give Upthis year. Being major milestones, both acts will perform those records in full, with Gibbard pulling double duty for each headlining set.
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To celebrate the tour, which kicked off last week, we asked our readers what the best Death Cab For Cutie songs are of all time. From “What Sarah Said” to “Transatlanticism,” find the top fan picks ranked below.
5. “Tiny Vessels”
The sixth song from Transatlanticism has remained a favorite over the years, for good reason. The song rides easy-going verses before erupting into a fuzzed-out bridge while Gibbard sings of “playful misspellings” and leaving his mark. Death Cab For Cutie’s shift between moody verses and an explosive chorus works well here, blossoming into a captivating song that’s aged well.
4. “Title and Registration”
Another Transatlanticism hit, “Title and Registration” builds to a satisfying conclusion. Set in motion by finger-picked guitar and a driving beat, the song is bolstered by precise and delicate layering that sets it apart from many others in Death Cab For Cutie’s catalog. The lyrics remain sharp as well, particularly the opening line (yes, the glove compartment is still inaccurately named all these years later).
3. “What Sarah Said”
Opening with a gorgeous piano line, “What Sarah Said” is one of the most remarkable tracks on Plans. As ever, Gibbard knows how to juxtapose the warm production with chilling lyricism (“I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409”) as he captures a bleak image of waiting around in the hospital — and the hardship that comes with it. Ultimately, this six-minute heartbreaker continues to resonate, particularly its stirring conclusion: “But I’m thinking of what Sarah said/That love is watching someone die/So who’s gonna watch you die?”
It’s not a polarizing opinion that the title track from Transatlanticism has the ability to alter your life more than most songs. Just shy of eight minutes, the track is a total journey from start to end. It features some of Gibbard’s best writing, as well as a masterclass in creating the ideal build-up. The intimate refrain “I need you so much closer” — overtop a rousing instrumental that climbs to a euphoric peak — still hits just as hard as it did when the song was released in 2003.
1. “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
Though simple in nature, this acoustic ballad remains Death Cab For Cutie’s defining anthem. After all, the Plans cut was many people’s first introduction to the band. Its production, courtesy of Chris Walla, favors a sparse delicacy that’s best suited for headphones, which allows Gibbard’s vocals to shine. It may be overplayed, but it’s perfectly lovestruck and, understandably, one of the band’s most iconic songs. In an expanse of sweet acoustic ballads, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” will always rise to the top.