Benjamin Gibbard's ghosts of 'Former Lives' haunt latest record

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Benjamin Gibbard expands his creative bounds on his latest solo album “Former Lives,” released Oct. 16. Throughout 12 tracks, Gibbard wrangles an eclectic group of songs that draws from inspiration in classic rock ’n’ roll, Latin music and country style while focusing on sadness and heartbreak.

Gibbard is best known as the singer and guitarist of the indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie and briefly in the electronic collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello, the Postal Service. In 2009, Gibbard collaborated with Jay Farrar for an album inspired by Jack Kerouac: “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur.”

Although this is a solo album, and his first release since splitting with hipster darling Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard gets some help on a few tracks. Jon Wurster, Mark Spencer, Aimee Mann and Deschanel are all heard on the record, released by Barsuk Records.

My favorite song on the album is “Bigger Than Love,” featuring the thumping bass and sage-like voice of Aimee Mann, who recently appeared in a hilarious cameo on the Independent Film Channel show “Portlandia.” She helps lay the foundation for the song by owning the very catchy chorus from the beginning. Gibbard said in an interview with Huffington Post the song is from the perspective of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, inspired by a book of their letters to each other. However there is an autobiographical relationship to the track.

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Love and loss are two heavy themes on the album that can range from bubblegum poetry and dark depression.

The album opens to a short introduction where Gibbard basically lays out the next 11 tracks with his tongue planted firmly in cheek.  “I sing a cappella/ this melancholy whimsical tune/I hope you can hear me and dreams be near me/ as you sleep an ocean away.”

From there, Gibbard performs some insomniac self-analysis on his image that is laid out musically over production that reminds me a bit of Elliott Smith’s album “Basement on a Hill.”

Gibbard is literal and melodic throughout all of the melancholy metaphors.

“Teardrop Windows” keeps a positive tone while Gibbard sings about how feeling alone because there is no one to share the view.

Although somewhat contrite, “Lily,” is an emotional bit of songwriting. He sings of “Lily,” like as an ocean, a blinding light and ultimately Gibbard’s true destination.

My favorite surprise on the album is the Latin-influenced and nylon-stringed guitar strummed, “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” featuring a wonderful horn section. It has a great sound and some interesting lyrics to accompany it. Listen to that one twice, it is worth it.

The McCartney-inspired “Duncan, Where Have you Gone,” really fills the space between your ears with a piano-laden melody and a synthesized harmony that rollercoaster’s through a landscape that is marked by a methodical guitar solo.

In “Oh Woe,” Gibbard describes sadness sticking around with an, “endless burning bluish hue.” However, in a reverse from his depressing persona in Death Cab for Cutie, Gibbard says all he wants is for his woe to disappear.

“A Hard One to Know,” may be the most unfiltered tale of rebellion against heartbreak on the album. It is full of great throw away lines such as, “You change your signals like a traffic light” and “You give your love out like an auctioneer,” that I’m sure would make Bob Dylan smirk.

He flips his focus on “Lady Adelaide,” who is “colder than a wave in the Arctic Ocean.”

It seems that Gibbard sounds most authentic in that folk-country style that punctuates the second to last track, “Broken Yolk in Western Sky.” There is a continuation of that cold truth of a love that was lost on the journey.

“I know it was a cowardly thing to do
and that an explanation is not an excuse,
I just want you to understand
that love is only a type of greed
of equal portions, want and need
and you cannot divorce the two.”
-“Broken Yolk in Western Sky.”

 There are countless references to sleeplessness that continues to the last track, which is a fun-house mirror reflection of the opening track. On “Building a Fire,” Gibbard sings, “That night is only a temporary absence of light,” which further deepens the mystery surrounding exactly where these at times intense and cold lyrics came from.

Listen to the album on Spotify or purchase it from iTunes or Amazon.

Which do you like better: Benjamin Gibbard’s solo project or Death Cab for Cutie? Tell me about it @DBCurrent #thehighnote.

Read the High Note with Shaun Smith every Saturday on

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