Barsuk Records 
Fire Note Says: Ben Gibbard cleans out his 8 year old closet to create his first solo record Former Lives.
It is actually a bit surprising that Death Cab For Cutie's frontman has not had a solo record until now but Former Lives represents Ben Gibbard's official debut. The album consists of 12 songs that span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places and drinking then not drinking which sets the stage for a potential choppy record that in the same breath will have every excuse to just be OK.
The legion of Death Cab fans will expect more from Former Lives but the reality is that the album is just good not great. There are plenty of interesting flavors here that keep the album diverse like the mariachi horns on "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)", the duet with Aimee Mann on "Bigger Than Love" and the 50 second opening Acapella almost barber shop quartet sounding "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby". The issue on Former Lives is its lack of cohesion and context because it covers such a wide range of time and space. After the very public divorce with Zooey Deschanel you would think that Former Lives would have been filled with heartbreak and anger but now with a little hindsight you realize that most of that slipped out on Death Cab's last record Code And Keys  that was released pre-split. It is too bad Gibbard didn't go in this direction because the record could have been drenched in substance and had a totally different impact.
So with Former Lives summing up Gibbard's past eight years and mostly feeling upbeat you just rely on his catchy songwriting abilities to help here and they do, as single "Teardrop Windows" is as memorable as most Death Cab For Cutie tracks. He pairs well with Aimee Mann and has a very warm 70's sunny vibe on several tracks like "Duncan, Where Have You Gone?" and "Lily" which fits his persona. I would have liked to hear Gibbard perform more like his very intimate 4 song outing on the 2004 Home Volume V compilation with Andrew Kenny that was more of a honest approach to music with its lo-fi and laid back presentation that also just allowed his voice to soar. That EP was much more reminiscent of an Elliott Smith vibe instead of that element just showing up in sections here. This approach would have pushed Former Lives into one of his best works to date.
At the end of the day, Benjamin Gibbard still has one of the best sounding indie rock voices out there which makes Former Lives not only listenable but enjoyable. Death Cab fans should pick this album up because there will be nothing here that turns them off. Old fans hoping for a solid base and substance will be a little disappointed because this is where Former Lives struggles. The upside is that now that Gibbard cleaned out the closet maybe his next solo outing will be all chips in personally and emotionally while truly re-connecting to the scene that he helped build back in the early 2000's.
Key Tracks: "Teardrop Windows", "Bigger Than Love", "Broken Yolk In Western Sky"
Bands With Similar Fire:
Benjamin Gibbard Website
Benjamin Gibbard Facebook
-Reviewed by Christopher Anthony