pretty pictures

Sean McGrath

It takes so few words to encapsulate so much. Trying to sum up his band in just two sentences, Death Cab for Cutie’s bassist Nick Harmer says, “We’re a pretty humble band. We don’t do coke outta hookers’ asses or anything like that.”…Indeed.

Speaking on the phone last week from his Washington state residence, Harmer says, kidding aside, they try to maintain a low-key modesty to avoid unnecessary breaches with their normal lives.

“We have a tour coming up in Japan,” Harmer says, “but I doubt we’re at the point where we’ll be chased down the street by screaming Japanese schoolgirls.” Then again, it is Japan.

“We’d be a real bad Behind the Music episode,” he admits. “[On tour] we’ll pass around books and read a lot. Aside from music, we’re all pretty big into movies and books. We’ll watch Rushmore or Bottle Rocket about once a week.”

Composed of Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, Michael Schorr, and Nick Harmer the band formed in Bellingham, Washington in 1998. With their most recent lovechild, The Photo Album, they now have three very solid albums under their belt. Last week, the group embarked on tour. “We’ll do about two 8-week tours a year after an album. To see how it goes over.”

An original army brat, Harmer has moved around quite a lot. Born in Germany, with his youth spent partly in Japan, Nick is indeed a journeyman. Yet he seems to have found a home in Seattle. “I’m not big into sports, but it’s kind of exciting having the Mariners do so well.” (Harmer could not be reached for comment after last night’s playoff game.)

“Now I try to support the local scene,” he adds. “I’ll go see bands around Seattle. We’re touring with The Prom and they’re from here, too.”

It’s unfortunate that bands of Death Cab’s caliber seem to be the ones ousted in the limelight to those on any Top 40 radio station. Yet, with the emergence of the Internet as a major vehicle for hearing such groups, bands like Death Cab are getting the notoriety they deserve.

“With the Internet it’ll be harder for those bands with only one poppy, marketable song to sell shows or albums,” Harmer says, but “we’re a very album engineered band.”

With The Photo Album, Death Cab, moves into the upper echelons of the indie-pop hierarchy. The album is a hallmark to selection tracking. I’m a huge proponent of song order, and Death Cab proves that structure constitutes the genetic makeup of the record. The first track, “Steadier Footing,” is a slow lyrical soliloquy with only a backing guitar and it sets the mood for the entire album. The Photo Album is exactly as the name dictates: contemplative, jumbled and reflective. The album picks up momentum starting with track 3, running with incredible lyrical and musical intensity, fluctuating between melancholia and lazy summer dreariness. Three terrifically saturating songs cap off the end of The Photo Album, leaving the listener in an auspiciously augmented state of mind-thus solidifying Death Cab’s place in music today. Without any special emphasis placed on a specific tune, Death Cab has created a truly genuine and accomplished album.

Death Cab for Cutie plays tomorrow at First Avenue (701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388). Shiner and The Prom open. 5:30 p.m. $10/$12. All-Ages.