While it doesn’t reach the same unequivocal classicness of Transatlanticism, Plans isn’t a disappointment to its predecessor.
And much to the indie kids’ relief, there’s little here that betrays Death Cab’s newfound major label deal—if you hadn’t seen the Atlantic label on the back, you might think it was recorded for the same tiny label as the rest of their catalog.
Their sound palette is a little expanded though, like the piano-heavy, off-Broadway ready opening of “Different Names to the Same Thing” (with a melody that showcases Gibbard’s shortcomings as a vocalist more than anything on Transatlanticism) or the peppy urban-paranoia of “Crooked Teeth,” or the straight folk of the tender and beautiful “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” a song that I once put on a mix during the days when I had a crush on my wife and wasn’t telling her and gave her a lot of rides because she didn’t have a car of her own in hopes that she might be able to figure it out without me actually saying anything about it (she did, but I still had to tell her for myself a few years later).
There’s plenty in common with the record before it, though. Drummer Jason McGerr once stated, “If Transatlanticism is an inhale, Plans is the exhale.” The opener “Marching Bands of Manhattan” is the same sort of soft-footed indie anthem as “The New Year” with its lyrics that walk the line between love sonnet and science lecture (“they would make your name sing/and bend through alleys and bounce off of the buildings”). The gloomy shuffle of “Lightness” is reincarnated here in the childhood-yearning “Summer Skin” and the hospital-contained “What Sarah Said.”
The theme of a distant lover that Transatlanticism pokes its head out a number of times as well, though here, Gibbard is getting worn by it.
And naturally, guitarist Chris Walla’s production is as fresh as always, placing the record in an atmosphere entirely Death Cab’s that often calls to mind the trains or doves that transition between the tracks on Transatlanticism. And given that Plans was released within a month of my first discovery of Transatlanticism, the albums’ two-part nature is difficult to deny, even if Plans is the slightly inferior sequel to the masterful original (though just slightly).