It’s tempting to give most of the credit to producer John Congleton, whose resume immediately repositions asphalt meadows in a flattering line of cerebral and populist indie rock. It’s a shrewd pairing – Congleton’s taste for textured, artisanal complexity and judicious distortion isn’t all that different from Walla’s studio approach, and Congleton also understands the importance of feel in Death Cab for Cutie’s music; Songs past could have moved you to the back of a gray subcompact or a Seattle tombstone apartment, even if it were instruments. Whereas Kintsugi and thanks for today seemed primed for alt-rock radio, asphalt meadows goes places: the Canadian prairie bathes in a warm, amber glow on “Wheat Like Waves,” and the eerie sampledelia mirrors the collage of digital memories on “Fragments From the Decade.” The despondent title track stares at the urban bustle, recreating the sound of being stuck on I-10 even better than Death Cab songs explicitly written about Los Angeles.
Still, you don’t do guest spots with Chance the Rapper and Noah Cyrus without picking up a few things. “I’ll Never Give Up on You” neatly resolves Gibbard’s public stances on clean living and politics on a concussive electro-pop kick more suited to close a Impossible mission movie than a Death Cab for Cutie album. It’s an indulgence allowed on a record that satisfies primarily through course correction. “Here to Forever” and “Pepper” are pleasant examples of the band’s new default mode, swapping the ocean spray of the Pacific Northwest for the silvery freshness of New Order and the Cure, gibberish-studded verses par excellence. unlike the broad and occasionally jaded hooks (“Just kiss me one last time / Tell me you were once mine”).
Likewise, while Gibbard returns to familiar imagery throughout the more cinematic tracks – analog maps, endless highways, 80s pop playing on a broken car stereo – they don’t feel as lived-in or lived-in. through. Inevitably, he writes to a degree far from stoned and hungry road trippers on “Rand McNally” and “Wheat Like Waves”; Anyone who has listened to Death Cab for 20 years is in the same situation. But if asphalt meadows doesn’t amp up the stakes of middle-aged romantic misunderstandings like “A Movie Script Ending” or “Title and Registration” did in college, it at least unlocks the repressed memory of what it was. was to be deeply moved by Death Cab for Cute Songs.