For all concerned parties, this isn’t a breakup album. Frankly, it could be said that it is one of the more uplifting efforts from the Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service frontman. Benjamin Gibbard, formerly known as “Ben”, has stitched together the frays of previous collaborations, creating a patchwork that connects him to his past, which makes for less of a retrospective and more of him breathing new life into ballads that could have been lost years ago. The transition from his hometown of Seattle to Los Angeles and back again likely inspired this collection of eight years worth of material, though the album seems overshadowed by recent personal events. More often than not, the saccharine melodies contradict the forlorn lyrics, but in common Gibbard fashion, his storytelling compels you to continue on.
Starting off with an a cappela lullaby, both quirky and sardonic, “Dream Song” follows, with a dynamic yet desolate presence. It any normal sense, this song shouldn’t work, but again, Gibbard’s ability to spin a story on a simple four-chord progression is one of his strongest talents. “Teardrop Windows”, the first single from the album, is also one of its bleakest, shying away from the obvious theme of heartbreak, instead relying on dysfunction from every other source. “Bigger Than Love”, about the letter correspondence between author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, is one of the album’s highlights, featuring Aimee Mann, whose oft-adorable harmonies could have easily been a contender for a Death Cab album, but much like the rest of the album, it’s humbling to find that Gibbard can concoct a worthy ballad on his own.
The second half of the album is bookended by two two-minute acoustic tracks, “Lily” and “I’m Building A Fire”, both gentle moments of honesty. The former track, a spurred folk interlude of unrequited love, and the latter, an outro of brazen but short-lived love, cushions three of the least cohesive tracks on the album. “Something Rattling (Cowpoke)” could have been ripped from any Beirut album, with is mariachi band-like tendencies, but what follows, “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” a Beatles inspired, more of the John Lennon persuasion, track is tangled in between a country infused “Broken Yolk of the Western Sky”, a song dating back from the mid-2000s.
Expanding the musical terrain on Former Lives gives Gibbard a new lease on life, bringing some tangible insight of his broken heart without losing his penchant for optimism. While remaining one of his generation’s greatest storytellers, he resolves his awakening not wistfully looking back, but forward.