Chris Walla - Field Manual (Cover Artwork)

Chris Walla

Field Manual (2008)


Death Cab for Cutie have all but monopolized the mellow indie rock sound. Their last two albums met significant critical and commercial success, and they've built a loyal fanbase. Having played the same style of music for a decade, it only makes sense that individual band members want to branch out and experiment with different genres.

Ben Gibbard showed his penchant for electronics when he debuted his well-received side project, the Postal Service. When Chris Walla announced a solo project of his own, many fans wondered what kind of songs he wrote on the side when he wasn't in DCFC mode.

Apparently, he wrote more Death Cab songs.

Field Manual is an easily digested set of songs that sound very similar to Walla's full-time band. A couple songs are more experimental than DCFC, but the majority of the disc is comprised of softly sung, mid-tempo songs with introspective lyrics and bouncy rhythms. As DCFC's guitarist, it's no surprise that guitars take center stage on this record. A couple songs, namely "St. Modesto" and "Everybody On," have a sort of American Football-inspired weaving guitar line, and a couple others have a more aggressive, distorted tone, but the majority of songs are built around jangly, clean chord progressions. Walla has a nice, if limited, singing voice. Like Gibbard, he keeps a demure tone, ranging from "reserved" all the way up to "mildly interested."

In a word, this record is "safe." Walla is an accomplished producer, and has worked with a diverse group of bands. He has an ear for many different genres of music, and that may be why his debut album is ultimately lackluster: He chose to do more of the same. The songs are pleasant and easy to listen to, but end up sounding like DCFC B-sides instead of a truly separate project. Fans of his main band will enjoy this collection of songs, but he probably won't draw many new listeners with this release.