Maybe it’s because I recently heard Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie’s upcoming album, for the first time, or maybe it’s because I’m going through Death Cab’s discography for a piece I’m working on, but for some reason or another, I find my long-dormant appreciation for Ben Gibbard reawakening.

For those of us who grew up in Seattle, Gibbard and his bandmates have been hometown heartthrobs for just under ten years. When Death Cab hit it big, the band — and Gibbard in particular — became easy targets. Their sound had gotten glossier, they were getting attention largely thanks to constant plugs on The O.C., and with Gibbard as the sensitive frontman who’s nerdily cute in a way that also became part of the “indie mainstream,” people had a convenient poster boy at which to aim their anger over the unearthing of a once-underground community or over the tamer direction that popular rock music seemed to be heading.

There’s a good — make that very good — chance that Narrow Stairs will destroy a lot of stereotypes that have been tacked onto the band, and for that alone the wait until its release date is even more agonizing. However, it’s not as though the band has been mediocre for years and are showing talent out of nowhere, as some of the early reviews would have us believe. This isn’t a fluke — there’s talent in Death Cab for Cutie, and not just in wonder producer Chris Walla. It’s in Gibbard, too. It lies in his voice.

Ben Gibbard, “Silver Lining [Live]” (Rilo Kiley cover) (download)
Rilo Kiley, “Silver Lining” (download)

This cover of Rilo Kiley’s “Silver Lining,” from a solo gig of Gibbard’s last fall, demonstrates the charm of his voice rather perfectly. In the hands of Rilo Kiley, “Silver Lining” is a decent song but rather plain and expressionless considering the lyrical content, and they had a whole band to work with. Gibbard does an incredibly close impression of Jenny Lewis’s vocal style, but in his hands, using just his acoustic guitar and his voice, the song is much more alive and emotive in comparison (and not in the oh-so-pained emo way for which Death Cab often get mislabeled).