Narrow Stairs

Narrow Stairs
Narrow Stairs
Studio album by Death Cab for Cutie
Released May 12, 2008
Recorded Seattle, King, Washington, United States
Genre Indie pop, indie rock
Length 44:50
Language English
Label Atlantic, Barsuk
Producer Chris Walla[1]
Death Cab for Cutie chronology
Narrow Stairs
Codes & Keys
Singles from Narrow Stairs
  1. "I Will Possess Your Heart"
    Released: March 17, 2008
  2. "Cath..."
    Released: July 21, 2008
  3. "No Sunlight"
    Released: November 17, 2008
  4. "Grapevine Fires"
    Released: February 3, 2009

Narrow Stairs is the sixth studio album by indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie. It was released on May 12, 2008, in the United Kingdom[2] and on May 13, 2008, in the United States. The first single of the album was "I Will Possess Your Heart", released on March 18, 2008. The second single was "Cath...". The album was their first to reach No.1 on the Billboard 200. Guitarist and producer Chris Walla stated, "Narrow Stairs was very much a commitment to just crashing through the songs as we recorded them, like four people in a room."[3]


Recording and production

In October 2007, producer and guitarist Chris Walla said that Death Cab for Cutie's new album "is in full swing; we're six songs in". He went on to say, "thus far it's pretty weird and pretty spectacular; lots of blood. It's creepy and heavy... we've got a ten minute long Can jam, and had you suggested that possibility to me in 1998, I'd have eaten your puppy's brain with a spoon".[4] In a Billboard piece, Walla described the album: "It's really weird. It's really, really good, I think, but it's totally a curve ball, and I think it's gonna be a really polarizing record. But I'm really excited about it. It's really got some teeth. The landscape of the thing is way, way more lunar than the urban meadow sort of thing that has been happening for the last couple of records." Walla went on to say, "[It's also] louder and more dissonant and [...] I think abrasive would be a good word to use. [We were influenced by] heavy, sludgy, slow metal [and] synth-punk band Brainiac."[5] Ben Gibbard, lead singer and writer, commented, "I just don't feel like we really have anything to prove of it other than to ourselves and to making a record we really enjoy."[6]

In 2011 Walla stated, "the master plan for Narrow Stairs was to be as invisible and hands-off as a producer as I possibly could. I was really interested in seeing what would happen. When we started that record, we had been on tour for the better part of two years. All we could remember was being on stage and playing. So the whole idea was: what happens if we’re just on stage and we play, except we’re in the studio and we’re recording?"[7]

Writing and composition

Whilst promoting the band's subsequent album, Codes and Keys (2011), Benjamin Gibbard reflected upon Narrow Stairs' lyrical content, stating, "That record is kind of a fulcrum in my life. So much of the negativity in my life got funneled into it. I realized after that I didn't want to go any darker. I wanted it to be the bottom for this band and my own emotional spectrum in terms of writing. I had no grandiose plans to turn my life around."[8]


Several of the songs have literary or cultural themes. "Grapevine Fires" appears to be centered around the wildfires that raged in California during the summer and fall of 2007.

"Bixby Canyon Bridge" is rife with references to Jack Kerouac's writing; Gibbard often notes that Kerouac is a favorite author in interviews, and the song was written during the artist's trip to Big Sur.[9] Gibbard has written lyrics about Kerouac before, including his contribution of lyrics and vocals to a song by Styrofoam titled "Couches in Alleys", and in songs "Lowell, MA" and "Title Track" from Death Cab for Cutie's 2000 album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes.

Unusually, the tenth song, "Pity and Fear", ends abruptly. In an interview, the band stated that the tape machine they were using broke toward the end, and they liked the sound it produced so much that they included it in the final version of the song.

The final track on the album, "The Ice Is Getting Thinner", is used in the first season finale of the television series Gossip Girl, as well as in the fourth season of reality series The Hills. The song "No Sunlight" is included in the soundtrack for Choke. "Pity and Fear" was included in the ending of an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The first track, "Bixby Canyon Bridge", was used at the end of the Friday Night Lights episode, "How the Other Side Lives".

The cover art was created by designer EE Storey, the art director for Tegan and Sara.[10]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars 2008
Alternative Press 4/5 stars
Blender 4/5 stars link
The Guardian 4/5 stars 2008
The Independent 4/5 stars 2008
Kerrang! 4/5 stars
Mojo 3/5 stars
Pitchfork Media (6.0/10) link
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars 2008
The Times 4/5 stars 2008

Critical reception

The album has received mostly positive reviews. MTV's James Montgomery referred to Narrow Stairs as "unquestionably the best thing [Death Cab has] ever done".[11] Rolling Stone called the album "a dark, strangely compelling record that trades the group's bright melancholy for something nearer to despair."[12]

The album has been highly rated by critics and fans, having been awarded 4 stars out of 5 by publications such as Rolling Stone, Kerrang!, Spin, Alternative Press, The Times, The Independent and The Guardian, as well as by the website Allmusic.

TIME magazine and Consequence of Sound awarded the album a "B+" rating, with the AV Club giving an "A" rating. Positive reviews have also been given by Mojo, People, The Album Project, Patrol, AbsolutePunk and PopMatters, among several others. It has a rating of 73 on music review aggregator Metacritic.[13] Boston radio station WERS ranked Narrow Stairs as the No.8 album of 2008 based on a listener poll.

Commercial performance

In its debut week, Narrow Stairs reached the No.1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 144,000 copies and scoring the band its first No.1 album. One week later it fell to No.5 with 52,000 copies. As of January 31, 2009, the album has sold over 475,000 copies in the US. Narrow Stairs was certified Gold by the RIAA in February 2009, for shipments of 500,000 copies.[14]

Narrow Stairs was nominated for the "Best Alternative Music Album" award at the 51st Grammy Awards. In addition, "I Will Possess Your Heart" was nominated for "Best Rock Song".[15]

Track listing

All songs written by Ben Gibbard except where noted.

  1. "Bixby Canyon Bridge"  – 5:15
  2. "I Will Possess Your Heart" (Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr, and Chris Walla)  – 8:25
  3. "No Sunlight" (Gibbard and Walla)  – 2:40
  4. "Cath..."  – 3:50
  5. "Talking Bird"  – 3:23
  6. "You Can Do Better Than Me"  – 1:59
  7. "Grapevine Fires" (Gibbard, Harmer, and McGerr)  – 4:09
  8. "Your New Twin Sized Bed" (Gibbard and Harmer)  – 3:06
  9. "Long Division" (Gibbard, Harmer, and Walla)  – 3:50
  10. "Pity and Fear"  – 4:21
  11. "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" (Gibbard and Walla)  – 3:45
iTunes Store bonus tracks
  1. "I Will Possess Your Heart" (Radio Edit)  – 4:08
  2. "Album Credits (As Read by Mike West)"  – 2:51
  3. "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" (Demo)  – 3:30
  4. "No Sunlight" (Demo)  – 3:25

The later two demos were also included on the vinyl LP edition of the album.


Death Cab for Cutie

Sales chart performance

Chart (2008) Peak
Australian ARIA Albums Chart[16] 6
Swedish Albums Chart 16
UK Albums Chart 24
U.S. Billboard 200[17][18] 1

Release history

The album was initially released on May 12, 2008,[2] in the United Kingdom and on the following day in the United States.


  1. ^ "Death Cab For Cutie Mount Narrow Stairs". Retrieved March 8, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "Death Cab For Cutie Announce UK Shows". XFM. Retrieved April 20, 2008. 
  3. ^ Death Cab For Cutie – interview – Interviews. Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  4. ^ » Death Cab for Cutie: “We’re six songs in.”. Puddlegum (January 29, 2008). Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  5. ^ Death Cab for Cutie promises louder, abrasive, dissonant new album. Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  6. ^ YouTube – making of the new album. (December 14, 2007). Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  7. ^ Death Cab For Cutie – interview – Interviews. Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  8. ^ Death Cab for Cutie profile; Death Cab for Cutie interview – Chicago Tribune. (May 19, 2011). Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  9. ^ Ben Gibbard Turns To Kerouac As Inspiration For New Death Cab for Cutie Album : Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily. Rolling Stone (August 31, 2007). Retrieved on July 7, 2011.
  10. ^ "New Album for Death Cab for Cutie". eFluxMedia. May 13, 2008. Retrieved May 13, 2008. 
  11. ^ James Montgomery. "Death Cab For Cutie Make The Leap With Narrow Stairs, In Bigger Than The Sound". MTV. Retrieved March 8, 2008. 
  12. ^ Will Hermes. "Narrow Stairs review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 3, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Metacritic rating". Retrieved June 14, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Certification for Death Cab for Cutie". RIAA Gold and Platinum Certification Database. Retrieved June 18, 2010. 
  15. ^ "51st Grammy Awards". Retrieved December 4, 2008. 
  16. ^ "ARIA Top 50 Albums Chart". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved May 25, 2008. 
  17. ^ Caulfield, Keith (May 21, 2008). "Cab Cruises, Sinatra's Strong, Warner Rules". Billboard magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2008. 
  18. ^ Hasty, Katy (May 21, 2008). "Death Cab For Cutie Scores First No. 1 Album". Billboard magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2008. 
Preceded by
Home Before Dark by Neil Diamond
Billboard 200 number-one album
May 25–31, 2008
Succeeded by
3 Doors Down by 3 Doors Down

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