I Can't Wait For Death Cab for Cutie's 'Plans' to Turn Ten and Become a Classic: Looking Back on What We’ll Probably Remember
Just what will become apparent in the next year or so that will make Plans a critically agreed-upon classic by the time it turns ten?
Where was I when I heard Plans by Death Cab for Cutie for the first time? Let me bring it into focus with this thinkpiece as we begin to close in on the album’s tenth anniversary, ten months from now. Or at least try. It’s hard to take stock of an album just nine years after it was released. In many cases we just need to wait for the tenth anniversary for the album to suddenly become classic and fully ingrained in the cultural memory. So where was I?
It was a blustery day in October, four years and a month or so after 9/11. I remember pulling the collar of my peacoat close around my throat against the autumnal gusts, when I first heard the opening chord of “Marching Bands Of Manhattan” strike and linger in the air. As Ben Gibbard’s voice rose out of the organ’s void, I remember stepping outside and—oh, wait, no, I was already outside in my story. Although then how was I listening to Plans for the first time? I didn’t have an iPod yet. I would’ve had to be inside. Or maybe I was outside and I heard someone playing it through an open window? Although there’s no way that’s it either because no one in my town growing up listened to Death Cab For Cutie, which was one of the reasons I felt sad all the time.
Anniversaries are so important. There’s the paper anniversary after one year. The silver anniversary is after 25 years. The gold anniversary is after 50 years. After ten years comes the tin or aluminum anniversary. Webster’s Dictionary defines aluminum as “a silver metal that is strong and light and that is used for making many products.” At this time, as we look forward to the all-important tenth anniversary of the highly influential, zeitgeist-shattering tour de force Plans, we should remember that definition. A CD is silver, and it is relatively strong and light and can be used to make products, and those products are memories.
But the other question we must ask is: Just what made Plans? And what makes it a classic?
Death Cab For Cutie’s fifth album Plans was the band’s first major-label release after several years at Seattle indie Barsuk Records. The quartet’s critically adored fourth record, Transatlanticism, as well as a high-profile presence on The O.C. (a show that was itself praised when it turned ten—coincidence?), had pushed it to the precipice of stardom. Plans made them superstars (possibly).
A better way of asking this question is: Just what will become apparent in the next year or so that will make Plans a critically agreed-upon classic by the time it turns ten?
Plans was recorded at a farmhouse in rural western Massachusetts. People will probably point out next year after glancing at the album’s Wikipedia page. That seems like an important detail. You can almost hear it in songs like “Different Names For The Same Thing,” which will definitely be one of the more overrated or underrated songs on the album. The influence of farms can really be felt on our culture today—I’m talking about farm weddings, farm-to-table dining, and bands like Mumford & Sons who authentically grew up on a farm. Without Plans, I don’t know if we’d have any of those things.
Many of the songs are influential. Take “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” for example. When it comes time to look at the most influential songs of 2005, I bet we’ll be looking straight at this ballad about life, love, loss, and following someone around until one or both of you dies. It’s a song that makes a real impression, and you could arguably say that it maybe drove a generation of kids to pick up acoustic guitars.
Now that I’m thinking, I remember. In 2005, I was sad after I didn’t get picked for my high school’s battle of the bands, and I was crying in my friend’s car until she turned on “Soul Meets Body” to drown me out.
That may have been 2006.
This is just a shot in the dark here, but when the tenth anniversary of Plans rolls around, maybe we’ll remember it as one of 2005’s greatest political albums. That sounds pretty good. In the years after 9/11, America was at war, and it became impossible to make an album without a political message. This is apparent, I think, in Death Cab’s lyrics, including “I wish we could open our eyes / To see in all directions at the same time,” from “Marching Bands Of Manhattan,” which seems like a fairly obvious call for bipartisanship in Congress, and “So who’s going to watch you die?” from “What Sarah Said,” prophesying the nation’s concern with healthcare reform. In any event, with bureaucracy-drenched Chris Walla production and a poppy rhythm section, the songs are subtle commentaries.
Here’s the thing you can’t help thinking about when you think about Plans: Somewhere, someone is feeling something. You should try to go feel their feeling.
Man, this is hard. There is something so… ineffable. How do you communicate the essence of an album that remains so far (a year) away from its tenth anniversary? Why can’t I understand it? What is inside you, Plans, that I can’t know yet? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING?????
The seventh song on the album is called “Someday You Will Be Loved.”
The eighth song on the album is called “Crooked Teeth.”
Maybe I’ve been reading too much into it. Or not enough. The thing about Plans is that it’s an album with so many dimensions that it can be hard to figure out what angle critics will take next year when they write about it, and I don’t want to be wrong. Plans could be the beginning of EDM, since songs like “What Sarah Said” showed that the climax of the song isn’t as important as the part of the song that builds to the climax, the way that silence in the mouth of a great speaker is more important than the speech he finally utters. You could argue that, arguably, “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” launched the genre of either a) bro country, by being about brothers, or b) Avicii, by being about brothers. Plans could be more essential or less essential than Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, which is also celebrating its tenth anniversary next year. That might be something to write about.
I’ve got it. In 2005, I was watching SportsCenter, Plans came on, and I felt something for the very first time. What that was is hard to say. But next year—next year we’ll really get it. So, just meet me back here at this essay next year. Say like 2:15. Mountain time. Then we’ll do it. We’ll remember Plans together. Possibly with an oral history.
Death Cab For Cutie might return a request for comment if we ask nicely next year.
Devin Schiff is Noisey's chief nostalgia correspondent. Follow him on Twitter.