Chris Walla Leaves Death Cab For Cutie!

With such volatile unrest in the Middle East, not to mention in the Midwest (Ferguson, MO, anyone?), it's easy to overlook other stories, like the announcement yesterday of Chris Walla's upcoming departure from Death Cab For Cutie.

Having followed the band from the release of their first album, 1998's Something About Airplanes, I have watched as the pride of Bellingham, WA has grown from an ambitious, yet unassuming indie rock outfit into the chart-topping American band that they are today.

Like R.E.M. before them, this "little band that could" made a name for themselves the old-fashioned way; by getting in a van and playing any joint would have them, all the while working to improve their craft and going about the business of making music in a thoughtful and conscientious fashion that is mostly unheard of in this business.

And like the Athens four-piece who gave the world such memorable songs as "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion", at some point, it stops being fun for one of the four members and the rest of the band is faced with carrying on without them.  In R.E.M.'s case, the departure of Bill Berry may have seemed inconsequential to most folks, but to those who know how great bands work, Berry's departure was akin to a car losing the very motor that propels it.

In Death Cab's case, they're not losing their motor, but the very co-pilot who helped shape Ben Gibbard's compositions into the deceptively intricate, yet deftly catchy anthems thousands will be singing along to as the band finishes their remaining summer festival commitments.  In Chris Walla, Ben Gibbard didn't just find a willing accomplice, but someone capable of giving his music both heart and backbone.

Still, upon first listen to 2011's Codes And Keys, I couldn't help feel that the working relationship had run its course and was now falling into repetition.  It wasn't that the album was bad, or that the songs weren't up-to-snuff, but that both artists were kind of bored by the colors on their palette.

My suspicions were confirmed when the band brought in their first outside producer, Rich Costey, to produce their upcoming album after Walla had produced every previous DCFC release.  When such things take place, it's impossible to not read things into it because, let's face it, nobody likes being replaced.
Rather than dwell on the unpleasant, or the unknown, we're choosing instead to compile this list of our four favorite Chris Walla productions.

Nada Surf - The Weight is The Gift

It's pretty amazing to think that this album and Death Cab's Plans were released within a month of each other.  To have been responsible for engineering and producing two albums that still stand as the creative high points for both bands in such rapid succession must have been an alternately exhausting and exhilarating period for Walla.  I know it was for those of us who were transfixed by both albums.

Death Cab For Cutie - Plans

Rarely has a band's transition from the indie world to major label status been as seemless and musically rewarding.  Of course, even the title of Transatlanticism hinted at things to come, as the band would later sign to Atlantic Records.  By doing so, the band raised the stakes (and expectations) considerably and delivered an album that pleased longtime fans and newcomers alike.  Walla's contribution to that process is easy to overlook because his production style is so unobtrusive that you almost take it for granted.  One can't help think that Ben Gibbard may have been guilty of that, too.

Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

Five years after they'd scored a minor hit with "Walking With The Ghost", the angsty Canuck sister duo was eager to brighten things up after the tumultuous period that had resulted in the lackluster The Con.  While Walla had co-produced that album with T&S, he was fully at the helm this time around, leaving the sisters to focus on their songwriting.  Sainthood is notable for being the first T&S album to feature songs the duo actually wrote together, as opposed to each bringing in their own songs.  The result is an album that sounds more cohesive and unified, both musically and thematically.  Walla rises to the occasion by turning each song into its own sonic statement, completely unique from any other song on the record, but not so much that any songs sound disjointed from the rest.

Death Cab - Transatlanticism

To carry the R.E.M. comparisons a little further, Transatlanticism was the band's Document; the first album where all of the pieces for world domination had been put into place and the band was no longer self-conscious about aiming for the fences.  New drummer Jason McGerr brings just the right amount of chops and swing to the proceedings and it is evident that Walla, as producer, is finally able to achieve certain things that he may not have been able to in the past.  Of course, Ben Gibbard the songwrite seems to have found another gear, too, as tracks like "The New Year" and "The Sound Of Settling" show real maturation.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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