I never get hangovers, because I’m not a particularly avid drinker. But when I do, you can sure bet that the only thing I listen to is Death Cab For Cutie. As the sun burns my retinas and the world spins still slightly faster than normal but not as fast so as to disturb my equilibrium, the soothing honey of Ben Gibbard’s voice swirling in the tea of life is all I need to keep it together. Surely over the course of many years and many more records, brilliant side projects (when you say you didn’t like The Postal Service record, you’re lying) and ex-wives, the band had a bit more of a roadmap than keeping post-inebriated twenty-somethings stable. After all, for many young Australians, here is a group we only discovered thanks to Josh Schwartz’ infamous Bait Shop on The O.C., which also happened to host Rooney, The Walkmen and some band called The Subways. They are about so much more than being soothing night music. They were the glue that kept many an adolescent relationship stuck together. They carried us through bad decisions like older, wiser brothers. And every so often, instead of just sounding pleasant, they wrote a truly unbelievable song.
There is a reason that everybody knows ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ and it has nothing to do with television and everything to do with the fact that it is an absolutely perfect piece of writing. From the imagery to the melody to the bare instrumentation, Gibbard knew exactly what this idea needed to take it into the hearts and minds of everyone with a heart or mind in 2005 (the year I finished highschool, no less) and went for it. The rest of Plans , the album this sits in, is big, brash and slickly produced, the result of the group’s move to a major label after years as an indie. By way of contrast, we’re treated to a mic so close to the subject that we can actually hear Ben’s intakes of breath as he strums the opening chords, adding that sense of realism that seems completely at odds with how perfect his voice is. Seriously, I doubt that Ben Gibbard has ever been out of key or tone in his life. It’s not just the regretful drunk saying this; the man is gifted. He can make even the most harrowing phrase – and really “Love of mine, someday you will die” is up there – sound completely wonderful. So much so that it’s only on the third or fifteenth of twenty-seventh listen that you actually optimise your ears from the warmth and hone in on the lyrics.
Despite what it seems like, ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ is not a morbid song. It’s a celebration of love in the most perfect way possible; acknowledging the vow that one makes at the altar to be entwined with your significant other so long as you both shall live. Gibbard, in full wandering muse mode, imagines taking one step further into the abyss and following his lover into the next life. Three verses, three choruses, few chords, no flourishes. It’s a style that’s been practiced from Jack Johnson to Matt Corby and through to the bastions of blues and folk. Everyone wants to write a song like this, but in the age of battles over authenticity, very few can spin the trick well enough to make you bawl at 7am on the bus before you’ve ever had breakfast. And you don’t even want breakfast, because you’re still really, really drunk.
What a great song.
Death Cab For Cutie – ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’