Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism
Record Label: Barsuk
Release Date: October 7, 2003
I haven't written a review for an album in years, mostly because they're not easy to do well. Something about the music has to inspire you enough to try and capture and translate the music into a series of words that convey the feeling equally as well. There aren't many records that can move me enough to attempt such a thing, but this is one of them.
Transatlanticism is a record that is equally as strong in its imagery as in its ability to take you back to times and places in your life where you were listening to it, or where the song would have fit that exact moment perfectly. At the same time, it has a transcendent quality to it; while it became the soundtrack to a relationship of mine several years ago, unlike many things from previous relationships its presence never wavers. It's too powerful to leave behind in the past, too well written and moving to want to.
"The New Year" is the perfect introductory song to the album, but also to the band in general. Everything that makes Death Cab for Cutie a great band is captured in this four minute package. A driving, pulsating beat keeps the mood upbeat (by Death Cab standards anyway), and the layers and layers of guitar serve to push the vocals to the forefront, as Ben Gibbard echoes common sentiments in unique ways, as only he can. Distance, the general theme of the record, is covered in an inventive way ("I wish the world were flat like the old days, where I could travel just by folding a map").
"Lightness," by no means a bad song, is a rather droning interlude between two standout tracks. There's nothing remarkably bad about it, but it has the unfortunate job of being sandwiched by the aforementioned "New Year" and "Title and Registration," arguably another one of Death Cab's greatest songs. A simple synth beat propels the song forward as Gibbard contemplates why exactly it's called a glove compartment when there are never really any gloves in there anyway. The lyrics are simple but well done, to the point you question how the idea never occurred to you. The keyboard solo, sounding like bells, is one of the album's highlights, especially if you've seen the song's video with the light-up paper organs.
"Expo '86" and single "The Sound of Settling" are your typical well written Death Cab songs, particularly the latter. Tailor made to be the single it was, it is only glossed over because of what follows it. Where many albums begin to falter around the midway point, Transatlanticism only gets stronger. The next trio of songs flow together so perfectly, you'd think they were written to on purpose.
The lyrics of "Tiny Vessels" are biting, as they document a fling without any true emotion behind it, and the accompanying feelings in realizing this. The imagery is too powerful to not see the entire scenario playing out in your head, and as the song fades out into a distant pulsing of drums, the album segues perfectly into its eight minute opus, the title track. The theme of distances surfaces again here, as simple piano/guitar chords float over the muted drum beat like waves. The buildup of the song mirrors the lyrical imagery of a previously barren landscape becoming flooded as the ocean is born. Layers of subtle instrumentation are added as the water level rises, the song slowly rising upward but never wavering from its steady pace. Eventually, the song swells outward as we find ourselves adrift in a sea of sound, and Gibbard's simple yet powerful lyric "I need you so much closer" really hits home.
It would be hard for any song to follow something so epic, but the band pulls off the transition seamlessly with "Passenger Seat." Another fine showcasing of Ben Gibbard's lyrical talent, it is impossible not to picture yourself as he describes, windows down, looking up at the night sky as rows of trees fly by. The song's beauty is in its simplicity; the entire thing is a simply piano and voice combination, yet the power of this simple combination is inescapable.
"Death of An Interior Decorator" is actually my least favorite song on the record. In my opinion it's the weakest song, which is not to say it's bad. I think it would be the standout on an older Death Cab record like "We Have the Facts," but it's surrounded by some exemplary work which diminishes it in comparison.
Every great album has a great ending, and Transatlanticism is no exception; the last two songs really drive home the vibe of the record. "We Looked Like Giants" sets a dark tone musically as Gibbard reminisces over a former love affair. One thing Death Cab can do is write a great album closer, and "A Lack of Color" is no exception. A gentle acoustic guitar supplemented by a muted piano documents the end of the journey, as Gibbard accepts his fate, singing "I should have given you a reason to stay." The tone is melancholy and reflective, and serves as the perfect ending to an outstanding album.
Transatlanticism may very well go down as the quintessential Death Cab record. All of their best elements are captured here in 45 minutes of audio gold, and while I hope I never have to make this decision, if I had to pick only one record to listen to for the rest of my life, this would be it.
it's just my own opinion: the whole fiasco with 30 seconds to mars. just reading what he said and dissecting it, adding my perspective to it, etc.....to me the guy has a mad ego and, to me, and i just don't like that. not a fan of when any band slams another. why even bother. his band is completely different than 30 seconds. i mean...what he said about 30 seconds...ummm.....Gibbard married Zooey who is an actress, who is also in a band, so she must be faking it also. just contradiction is what it comes down to. he slams Leto because he is an actor who is in a band and calls it fake but he marries an actress who is in a band. i can't respect that. my reply wasn't douchey for anyone reading this. you can flame if you want. i'll have a fire extinguisher ready.
and completely unrelated...he did the lead single for Twilight....and how he also mentioned that there never was a chance for a 2nd Postal Service album when he went on record saying it was slowly being started. again, just my opinion.