August 2005: Death Cab for Cutie Bring Emo to the Masses with PLANS

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

It was the year emo broke: 2005. Bands like Paramore, Thrice, Motion City Soundtrack and Bright Eyes released seminal albums that year. The group that made the biggest impact, however, was Bellingham, Washington's Death Cab for Cutie.

Still fresh from releasing groundbreaking 2003 full-length, Transatlanticism, Death Cab's heartfelt romanticism, ringing minor-key guitars and earnest lyricism earned the outfit a cult of devoted fans. The record galvanized those growing legions of listeners, arriving to a sea of positive reviews and critical acclaim. It was enough for major labels to court the group away from their indie imprint, Barsuk. They landed at the legendary Atlantic Records label.

Setting up shop at the sprawling expanse of the rural Longbrook farmhouse studio located in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, band leader Ben Gibbons and company went to work on the highly anticipated follow-up to the Transatlanticism LP: Plans.

"If Transatlanticism was an inhale, Plans is the exhale," is how drummer Jason McGerr described the process of making the band's fifth studio effort. It was a process that found the act navigating the world of major label music industry, while working to maintain their hard-earned credibility.

"I feel that, you know, in making Plans, I think we did the right thing, which is just to power through the process, make the record that, you know, we wanna make given the material we have in front of us, and just go about our business and not really think about it too much," Gibbard told MTV News in 2005.

"I feel like the transition is something that so many people have so many different feelings about, for different reasons, you know?" Gibbard added about the jump to Atlantic. "I mean, for you know, for one person who likes the records because they're somewhat similar and thinks that that's great, because we're not selling out, because we're maintaining the aesthetics of the record before. You know, somebody else thinks, 'Well, they're not really pushing too hard,' you know. It's like, 'They should be pushing harder than...' You know, and so, that's kind of like, as from a critical standpoint between the records, and where, I think, our band is now, I feel that I'm incredibly proud of this record, but I think it's the kind of record that, you know...we had to make this record in this time period and kind of maintain...wait 'til the next record to make the free jazz record, you know what I mean like?" Gibbard cracked.

As such, Plans found Death Cab leaning into the aesthetics that made them emo rock cult heroes, while pushing the boundaries on production and song styling. The first song from the set, "Soul Meets Body," arrived in August 2005, and immediately became the group's first genuine hit. The track cruised up the charts to peak at #1 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart, and #5 on the Alternative Airplay chart. It was also Death Cab's first track to impact the Hot 100, peaking at #60 on December 31, 2005.

The band received a huge boost when they became something of a recurring theme on red-hot teen TV show, The OC, where main character Seth Cohen was a proud fan of Death Cab, complete with a Transatlanticism poster on his bedroom wall. The group even appeared on the show, performing at the fictitious Bait Shop bar/concert venue.

"'Death Cab' is almost like a password for people willing to go outside the mainstream to connect with music," The OC creator Josh Schwartz told SPIN in 2005. "You feel like 'I love listening to their music, and I wish I was friends with them.' The reason people connected with Seth is the same reason that they connected with Ben: Most people feel pretty insecure most of the time, and hearing that in music makes you feel less alone."

Follow-up single "Crooked Teeth" was another strong showing from Death Cab, hitting #10 on the Alternative Airplay chart. The album's third single, "I Will Follow You into the Dark" is curious example; while it was only able to achieve #28 on the Adult Top 40 chart and #34 on the Alternative Airplay chart, the tune has been certified double platinum (two million copies sold), and stands as Death Cab's most successful single.

Altogether, Plans--released August 30, 2005--was an undeniable hit, riding the emo wave all the way to #4 on the Billboard 200 for the week of September 17, 2005. The LP was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album the following year, with the award going to the White Stripes for Get Behind Me Satan.