If anything is clear on Field Manual, the debut solo album from indie rocker/producer Chris Walla, it’s that Death Cab for Cutie is not just “Ben Gibbard’s band.” Moments of Field Manual feel as if Walla simply resurrected lost tracks from some old Death Cab record, which, in turn, actually offers testament to the great influence the band’s guitarist brings to their quietly powerful sound. Songs like “Everyone Needs a Home” and “Sing Again” are slated to fit right into the next Zach Braff movie, revealing Walla’s Gibbard-like vocal style of hushed sentimentality. The sentiment is exactly the same here as it is on Death Cab’s Transatlanticism or Plans; it’s gentle and lovelorn.
At 32 years old, he has played in front of crowds of thousands, and Death Cab has sold more than 500,000 records on Atlantic, but Chris Walla has returned to his independent roots for his solo record. Back on Barsuk Records (where Death Cab started), he sounds comfortably indie. Walla might not hit Gold status with Field Manual, but he’ll certainly please fans.
Best known for his guitar work for Death Cab, Walla has in recent years made waves as a producer for popular indie acts like The Decemberists, Tegan and Sara, and Hot Hot Heat. He’s revealed himself to be a trustworthy ear for melodic quality. It’s good news for those who still listen to Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity once a week and sorrowfully miss the days of The Juliana Theory. If anyone thought that the genre was dead, Chris Walla’s Field Manual stamps assurance onto the fact that the emo of years past still has a place in today’s music industry.
Walla’s sharp ear is prominent on one of Field Manual’s finest moments, “St. Modesto.” It’s a heart-tugging song about any lovesick teenager that wishes for that one person who could possibly make them feel complete. Beautifully mixed and produced, this song shows the ability Walla has to put musical pieces together in just the right way, creating that perfectly emotional tone. Cool synths and steady drums meld with Walla’s harmonies to create melancholy pop-rock bliss.
Postal Service fans will appreciate this new side project of Death Cab for Cutie’s producer. Walla knows just what his fans want. Sometimes they’ll have to rock, they’ll often want to sing and sometimes they’ll just have to cry—this album delivers it all. The emo of days past is back on Field Manual, and Chris Walla can proudly wear his heart on his sleeve as one of the leaders of the unapologetically sappy, youth-ensnaring genre.