Not many bands can afford to make videos for every single song off of a single album. Sonic Youth made a video for every song on their DGC debut, Goo, back in 1990. Since then, other than Radiohead initially expressing a desire to make a video for every song off of OK Computer, I can't think of a single band wanting to do such until Death Cab for Cutie announced they were doing them for their 2005 album, Plans. The band commissioned eleven videos to be made for the eleven tracks on Plans, along with videos for two b-sides. Doesn't it sound a little egotistical to have an entire album be made video form? I think it is, but in the case of Plans' videos, I finally "get" this record.
My feelings about Death Cab for Cutie's music have been really mixed ever since I heard their second album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes. Feeling that their best material was an EP of outtakes (Forbidden Love) until they released Transatlanticism, I could not sink my teeth into their weepy, timid rock. On albums like We Have the Facts and The Photo Album, the band sounded afraid of really rocking out. They walked in circles of build-ups with rare moments of exertion and this frustrated me. Maybe this was because of the drummers that they played with before Jason McGerr joined, but I'm not sure. This feeling changed after McGerr joined and they cut Transatlanticism in 2003.
Transatlanticism wasn't afraid to rock out while the band was its usual slow and atmospheric self. The rockouts made the slower and softer passages worthwhile and I became pretty drawn to what Death Cab had to offer. The visibility of the band being featured on Fox's The O.C. drew many more Top 40 mainstream fans to them, but instead of giving them Transatlanticism II for a follow-up, they made something more unique and not as accessible.
Plans, their debut album for major Atlantic Records, took a while for me to get into. Feeling like the band went back into the timid ways of never-ending builds, I passed on digging deeper last year. I really dug tracks like "Soul Meets Body" and "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," but I couldn't give a thumbs-up to the album as a whole. Well, after sitting down and really listening to the album, I realize I've been missing quite a bit.
Directions, a DVD compiling all thirteen Plans-era videos, recently came out in stores. Since I'm always up for stuff I'd like to preview via Netflix, I put this on my queue. Watching it yesterday, I realize that these songs are awesome to see in a cinematic way because they are rather cinematic songs. They aren't going to blow you away upon first listen (at least to me). Plus, sitting down in my den rather than walking down my street with my iPod or having it on in my car is not going to have the same effect. Maybe this was the key to understanding what these guys were trying to do. Yes, these songs are slow and atmospheric, but they aren't boring. There's very little wasted space here.
Despite low budgets and simple concepts, these videos are pretty awesome short films rather than goofy promotional fluff. You don't see the band in any of them, but for a band like Death Cab, the music is way more interesting than watching them play. Though the "What Sarah Said" video feels like a generic mall emo video (a girl tries to speak to her boyfriend and the only way he notices is when she carves a word into her leg), all of the videos are pretty worthwhile. The "Different Names for the Same Thing," "Summer Skin" and "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" are some of my favorites.
I guess my relationship with Plans is one of a grower. I must commend the band for making something that's a little denser than anything they've done before, especially with their current mainstream visibility. Sure, their shows are packed with O.C. watchers who swap out their records with Black Eyed Peas and Dave Matthews Band these days, but they aren't always going to be at their future shows. The band may not always be on Atlantic Records for their future records, but at least they made something that I argue is some of their best work to date.