Album of the Week: Ben Gibbard’s Debut Solo Album, ‘Former Lives’

Considering his prolific and respected work during the past decade, it’s kind of surprising that Ben Gibbard, frontman of bands like Death Cab For Cutie and the Postal Service, is just now getting around to releasing his first solo album. For the long-awaited LP, Former Lives, Gibbard repurposes a collection of songs that did not make it on Death Cab’s releases during the past eight years.

As a revered singer/songwriter and musician, Gibbard has been one of the most influential figures of indie pop for more than a decade, and he delivers yet again on his solo effort, showcasing his nuanced,  emotive and often romantic music that is accessible to almost everyone. It’s hard to imagine, when he’s at his best, that anyone who appreciates quality pop  songs could turn away from his music, and there are more than a couple tracks on Former Lives that fans will take to right away, and a few that will likely become staples of his live solo performances.

“Teardrop Windows” – Ben Gibbard from Former Lives (#2 on Amazon; only $5.00 for MP3 album – for limited time)

While he maintains, overall, the style and sounds of his finest work with Death Cab, Former Lives offers a wonderful diversity of genres that range from acoustic folk pieces to upbeat pop melodies (“Bigger Than Love” and “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?”), Mariachi flavors mixed with mesquite western (“Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” and alt-country-rock (“Broken Yolk in the Western Sky”), to more traditional singer-songwriter compositions (the beautiful “Lady Adelaide”).

On the gorgeous, quintessential ballad, “Lady Adelaide,” Gibbard woos listeners with a perfectly beautiful melody and his unmistakably tepid, sensitive vocals. The catchy “Bigger Than Love” is a sprawling, rhythmic and evocative pop track that makes it easily one of the album’s stand out tracks, and as impressive as anything Gibbard has ever released. The track’s terrifically catchy chorus establishes “Bigger Than Love” as one of the most memorable songs from Former Lives. Other stand outs include the country-like jangle pop of “Teardrop Windows” and the acoustically uptempo, “A Hard One To Know,” that even includes a subtle synth riff that doesn’t drown out the acoustic guitar, but instead compliments it.

“Bigger Than Love”Ben Gibbard from Former Lives

“A Hard One To Know” – Ben Gibbard from Former Lives

For Death Cab fans, Former Lives is a must-have album, not merely because it’s Gibbard’s debut solo album, but also because it sounds much like a new Death Cab album, with the exception of the genre tour de force. However, it must be said that some of the songs on the album make it possible to understand why they didn’t make it onto a Death Cab release. Still, overall, Former Lives is yet another fine example of Gibbard’s masterful songwriting and musical skills, and reaffirms his trademark  evocative, sensitive style.

Plus, Former Lives, for the first time, provides fans with an unfettered opportunity to hear Gibbard on his own, without the support of his long-time band Death Cab band members. In a sense, Gibbard’s solo album puts a different spin on what we normally consider to be ‘unplugged’ in that the album is a stripped down Gibbard without his usual line-up. We were fortunate enough to sample some of the material on Former Lives a couple of years ago when Gibbard performed one of his first solo shows at SXSW.



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