The postgrunge age is fraught with ironies. Alternative music has become the mainstream it rebelled against. But now that Seattle is no longer the center of a musical revolution, bands once again have the freedom to experiment, and the group creating the biggest stir on the Northwest scene is a pop band you've probably never heard of.
The era of flannel shirts and bad hygiene may be dead, but Death Cab for Cutie keeps alive that old anti-mainstream sentiment. The act (which takes its name from a Bonzo Dog Band tune in the Beatles' flick The Magical Mystery Tour) has refused to sign with a major label. The independents, after all, allow groups like Cutie to stay out of debt, despite smaller venues and limited exposure. Still, the group has potential to break out on the national scene; witness the appearance of its latest CD on a New York Times list of "Worthwhile Albums Most People Missed" in the year 2000. It even reached No. 12 on the coveted national college-music charts.
Lead singer Benjamin Gibbard has a taste for some of that time-tested angst, which he delivers with an appropriately weepy singsong voice. "Lyrically, I think, sad songs are the more interesting," Gibbard told The Seattle Times. Tracks from the band's CD We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes deal with a variety of subjects, including mistakes made in a fit of passion or having to stand by while the object of your affection marries another. Or just a drunken binge:
"Misguided by the 405 'cause it led me to an alcoholic summer / I missed the exit to your parents' house hours ago / Red wine and the cigarettes: Hide your bad habits underneath the patio."
To paraphrase a famous quote: All happy songs are alike, but every sad song is sad in its own way. So in the monotonous bubble-gum world of pop music, it may be possible for a quirky band from Seattle to sound new again.