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With gorgeous melodies, Death Cab for Cutie escape notice no more

click to enlarge Call Death Cab for Cutie if youre looking for a melodic - ride. - COURTESY OF AUTUMN DEWILDE
  • Courtesy of Autumn DeWilde
  • Call Death Cab for Cutie if youre looking for a melodic ride.

Over the years, the members of Death Cab for Cutie could dismiss any notion of moving up to a major label, simply because they made it so hard for record companies to sign them.

According to bassist Nick Harmer, any label that wanted to court Death Cab for Cutie was met with a long list of requirements that would have to go into the contract any number of which were immediate deal-breakers.

"For a long time, the music industry was such, and we were, as a band, as such, that you would look at that list and just laugh," Harmer says.

But about two years ago, the idea of being a major-label band stopped being a laughing matter.

Death Cab was approached by Atlantic Records, and suddenly the band members discovered they had gained clout.

"We sent our wish list over to Atlantic, and they called us back and said, "Yeah, that looks pretty good,'" Harmer says. "And we said, "Whoa, whoa, wait, slow down. What?' We didn't expect that they would be so interested and really so, I don't know, brave, I guess, to take some risks and meet us halfway."

So Death Cab signed to Atlantic, and last year released their first CD for the label, Plans.

It's a sure sign that Death Cab for Cutie is no longer an unknown quantity within the music business. And while Plans hasn't been the major commercial breakthrough some observers predicted, even Harmer admits that Death Cab no longer flies completely under the mainstream radar.

The band, which formed in Bellingham, Wash., in 1997, first began to win fans through touring and earning favorable press for albums like Something About Airplanes (1998), We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (2000) and, especially, the buzzworthy The Photo Album (2001).

Then, with 2003's Transatlanticism, awareness mushroomed. The CD was seen by many as Death Cab's strongest effort, and the band gained extra visibility through the popular television series, "The OC," whose character, Seth Cohen, frequently espoused his affection for their music. Death Cab also appeared on the much-publicized "Vote For Change" tour in fall 2004.

Before all was said and done, the CD had sold some 300,000 copies a huge number for an indie album and the move to Atlantic seemed logical.

As Harmer notes, the music on Plans feels very much in character with Transatlanticism, a CD that found the band leaning toward mid-tempo material boasting some of their most graceful melodies ever.

"We just really feel like we've hit our creative stride in the way of talking and the way of writing and the way of being with each other that previously we'd never found," he says. "Transatlanticism was the beginning of that and Plans is still just an extension that's on that continuum. It just makes us that much more excited for the next record and the next record."

The continuity between the two CDs is also helping the group's live show, which leans strongly on material from Transatlanticism and Plans.

"The songs are all really occupying the same space and sort of existing near each other in very good ways," Harmer says. "They're very complementary. I think it's going to be a very interesting and good set for us."

capsule

Death Cab for Cutie, with Mates of State

Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., Denver

Sunday, Aug. 6 and Monday, Aug. 7, 8 p.m.

Tickets: Sunday show sold out, Monday show still available, $26, 16-plus; visit fillmoreauditorium.com.

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