What we're listening to: Death Cab for Cutie and The Appleseed Cast

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Fall is here, and with it came a bunch of new music. In this week's column, deputy managing editor Nathan Ingraham offers some thoughts on the new Death Cab EP. Senior news editor Billy Steele reminisces on when he discovered The Appleseed Cast and praises the band's 2019 album that arrived over the summer.

Death Cab for Cutie - The Blue EP

Nathan Ingraham

Nathan Ingraham
Deputy Managing Editor

Death Cab for Cutie is one of modern rock's most reliable acts, dropping well-crafted albums every three years or so. That said, some critics find them to be a bit too predictable at this point, an enjoyable but static band that's not pushing any boundaries. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I can understand where that complaint comes from. The good news is that DCFC often also releases EPs between albums, as they did a few weeks ago. The Blue EP is an easily digestible five songs and 21 minutes that crackles with more life than last year's Thank You for Today.

As usual, the songs are unmistakably Death Cab, but they're all pretty distinctly different. Opener "To the Ground" is an instant classic, with strong melodies, choppy guitars, pounding drums and subtle keyboard fragments that all drop out four minutes in -- only to rejoin a few seconds later in a building crescendo to the song's climax. "Blue Bloods," on the other hand, starts with only a few chords and wistful lyrics about everything falling someday. But the second half just sounds great, with layers of guitar all coming together on top of a simple piano melody, not entirely unlike classic cut "Transatlanticism."

Those tunes bookend three simpler songs that are no less pleasing. It's surprising how well the whole collection hangs together when you consider the different creative processes these songs went through. Two were originally intended for Thank You for Today, two more were brand-new recordings made with a different producer after the album had been released. And the fifth tune, "Man in Blue," came out of sessions from when the band was just starting work on its last album. The recording on The Blue EP is from those sessions, unchanged. It's a low-fi affair that calls back to DCFC's earliest works while still fitting in with other brand-new tunes.

None of these songs are likely to become all-time favorites in the band's catalog. But somehow, The Blue EP still works surprisingly well as a quick, stand-alone record to show people what Death Cab For Cutie is all about.

The Appleseed Cast - The Fleeting Light of Permanence

Billy Steele

Billy Steele
Senior News Editor

I was first introduced to The Appleseed Cast in 2003. Thanks to a college classmate, my music library expanded exponentially over the course of a single semester. After a semi-sheltered childhood, I dove headlong into hardcore, indie rock and emo. And I quickly discovered that only a few options were conducive to productivity. One of those was the ambient indie rock sounds of The Appleseed Cast.

By the time I found them, the band from Lawrence, Kansas, was on its sixth album. However, I was immediately drawn to Mare Vitalis, released in 2000. Tracks two and three, "Fishing The Sky" and "Forever Longing The Golden Sunsets," are basically peak Appleseed Cast for me. Guitar riffs drive the tracks with bombastic drum beats underneath. Nothing is overly intricate here, and the riffs are mostly repetitive rhythmic picking, but the band is so good at it. And they're also very good at using dynamics to create tension and beauty in their songs. There's also a lot of instrumental tracks spread across the band's library which makes them a solid choice for background tunes when you're trying to work.

"Fishing The Sky," in particular, goes from soaring rock to restrained melodic instrumental and back up to a climax where the vocalist Christopher Crisci comes just short of full-on screaming. That would've been too much though, and teetering on the edge of restraint is what makes it fit the song perfectly. And on "Forever Longing The Golden Sunsets" you get a taste of another key aspect of The Appleseed Cast: Drum beats are more than just 4/4 or 6/8 pounding. They're almost like drum riffs, where the cymbals are part of the beat -- bell hits on the ride in particular. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of just keeping the beat, but the added details are a big part of what makes this band's music unique.

I'm also a huge fan of Peregrine (2006) and Illumination Ritual (2013) for some of the same reasons. Both of those albums showcase my favorite aspects of the band: Soft, brooding tracks are offset by some of the best indie rock driven by guitar riffs and booming drums -- all intricately woven together. It's basically the epitome of emo/indie rock for me. And perhaps what's most impressive to me is the band's most recent album does all of this and more, so it doesn't feel dated at all. Instead, it's equal parts consistency and evolution.

The Appleseed Cast released The Fleeting Light of Impermanence in June, and I'll be honest, I never expected to get another new album from them after 2013. I'm very glad we did though, as this might be my favorite album of the year. Sure, I'm a little partial, but hear me out.

The opening track, "Chaotic Waves," there's everything that makes the band what it is. Then you notice some subtle synth work complementing the guitars in some parts. As the record progresses, there's gradually more synthesizer, strings and other elements that expand the sound The Appleseed Cast has spent decades perfecting. Then you hit the third song, and it's an all out assault, or as I like to call it, a symphony of indie rock. "Time The Destroyer" starts soft and builds to a huge chorus with driving drums and a big sound before dipping back down to more ambient and melodic tones.

If you're a fan of bands like American Football and Pedro the Lion, you'll likely be into The Appleseed Cast. Even if you're not, heck, you might find something you like here.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.