As “Bixby Canyon Bridge” barrels towards its conclusion, Ben Gibbard repeats the phrase, “A Dream,” 12 total times, each instance becoming more and more muddied by the instrumentals surrounding it, much like the “dusty gravel ridge” below the title landmark. This is a Gibbard who speaks of dying souls, who still seems to be on an audible, emotional journey of sorts, and one willing to work it all out in front of us. You can argue if and when that vulnerability passed on — many seem to think Codes and Keys was that moment — but it’s certainly alive and potent here, in the opener to Narrow Stairs.
The band’s only number one record, the 2008 effort would follow up the band’s commercial breakthrough, Plans. And for some reason it seems like this was the beginning of that “you’re popular now” backlash, although the record remains one of their career high moments. Especially this opener, which while beginning innocently enough, blasts off at the 1:40 mark, serving as one of their most energetic album starters. And the flurry of feedback toward the end of the extended bridge previews some welcome experimentation, surely needed after the safer, yet nice Plans.