After twenty years of consummate service, what’s a reasonable expectation for a new Death Cab For Cutie album? Excelling among the late 90s lo-fi blitzkrieg, proceeded by their valourisation as *the* quintessential 00s indie rock sound by The OC, and their subsequent – probably inevitable and categorically unfair – degeneration into cultural pastiche as the talismans for earnestly twee heartbreak, and their partial critical re-reappraisal – or forwardlash – that their greatness is rooted in their earnestly twee heartbreak; Death Cab’s arc as a band feels complete, and everything from now on feels surplus to requirements. Is it sound to anticipate a record as epochally brilliant as Transatlanticism or a song as singularly gorgeous as ‘What Sarah Said’? I don’t think so.

Now, given their previous album, 2015’s Kintsugi, was both melodically good and conceptually interesting, you could argue that Death Cab have plenty left in the tank and that anything other than their absolute all is complacency at best and a dereliction of duty at worst, but you’d be an idiot. Scroll through comment sections on Youtube, and publications who actually deploy comment sections, and you’ll see anonymous subhumans lambasting recent Death Cab for lacking the emotional volatility of the early stuff, conflating Ben Gibbard's dip in form with his romantic life improving, his mental health improving; “I prefer heartbroken Ben;” “I prefer alcoholic Ben;”

There’s a debate circulating The Discourse at the moment, precipitated somewhat after The Last Jedi’s release last December, around fans’ owning art and whether the creator secedes jurisdiction once art escapes into the world; and there shouldn’t be, because fans and their incessant fetishising of art’s creation, particularly addiction or depression, can fuck off. Ben Gibbard doesn’t owe you anything, you are not entitled to art created through pain, and you have no right to demand unhappiness to placate your break-up playlist.

Thank You For Today isn’t great, but it’s pretty good. Gibbard has remarried, to photographer and tour manager Rachel Demy, and after the miserable fallout from his divorce with Zoey Deschanel and departure of long-time producer and guitarist Chris Walla moulded Kintsugi’s pessimism, Thank You is intent on rediscovery and renewal, his returning to his hometown and rebuilding of his lovelife, and in a clichéd but-no-less enthusiastic way, confronting his demons. On lead single ‘Gold Rush,’ whose slacker bustle recalls Odelay-era Beck (and is the first use of a sample in Death Cab’s discography, off Yoko Ono’s ‘Mind Train’), he meditates on his hometown Seattle’s passing into gentrification and passing beyond recognition, consolidated by the guilt-tripped memory ‘You Moved Away,’ written for his friend Derek Ardman and their mutual, contradictory relationship with the city.

Instrumentally, it’s clean and smiling. As on Kinstugi, there’s electronics, though they’re conspicuously bubblier; likewise the guitars are effervescent with very minute reverb, there’s gurgling strings, pulsating piano. When it gets going, Thank You sounds like less tedious Elbow (‘Summer Years’); or if The War On Drugs sang about intimacy metaphors (‘When We Drive,’ ‘Northern Lights’). It’s slight with numbed edges, yes, but it’s bright and gently uplifting.

When it sounds most classically Death Cab – that negligibly distorted guitar, downtempo muted percussion, Gibbard’s malleable drawl – Pavlovian instinct prepares you for the emotional troughs; ‘Your Hurricane’ is tinged with loss and regret at an inability to reconcile, perhaps the most harmoniously astute song on the record, and ‘Autumn Love,’ bristling in Gibbard’s plea that said seasonal fling is “not enough,” initially evokes the nostalgia and retrospective transience of intense passion, a failure in other words, but its arpeggiating build, choral breakdown, emphatic chord change, and swelling strings, instil a triumphalism, and the ‘Autumn Love’ meaning inverts; Gibbard is no longer impugned by remorse over love’s transience but expectant of better, admitting that he deserves a lasting, fulfilling relationship.

This is affirmed by the closing, low-key anthemic ‘60 And Punk,’ not so much a rebuttal to middle age as a compromise with it, in which he roars “When you're looking in the mirror do you see /The kid that you used to be?". The record transplants you to Gibbard, now beginning to overcome the past and intuiting hope at what he, and the world, is capable of moving forward.

Thank You For Today is uninspired but competent and honest, a laudable addendum to an unquantifiably meaningful legacy. I’ll take the endurance of ‘Brothers On A Hotel Bed’ and an artist’s happiness over masochistic boundary-pushing any day.