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Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism

Posted by November 12th, 2003 No Comments »

Death Cab For Cutie Transatlanticism
Barsuk Records
By Eric “Skip” Tognetti

It’s the refrain of the indie-rocker. Every kid with a shelf full of Yo La Tengo, every one, has at some point uttered the phrase, “Yeah, but I like their old stuff better.” Sometimes it’s true, sometimes not. Most often it’s a barely disguised attempt to establish indie cred.

Fortunately, there are bands out there that make this statement impossible to back up. Death Cab For Cutie is one of those bands. With each succeeding album, these guys get better and better. And if the follow-up to the recently released Transatlanticism continues this trend, I’m afraid for my ears.

All the classic Death Cab trademarks are represented on Transatlanticism , only, well, better. There are Ben Gibbard’s unshakeable melodies and his almost boyish falsetto belting out sometimes clever, sometimes coy, always sincere lyrics. There is Chris Walla – who I think occasionally has too much ink on his production stamp on other bands’ albums – twiddling the knobs and introducing effects that make good pop songs almost magical.

With Transatlanticism , however, Death Cab has borrowed from the spacious compositions that identified their first two albums – There’s Something About Airplanes, and We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes – and incorporated the slice-of-life, pop song aesthetic of the third, The Photo Album.

Transatlanticism starts off with “The New Year,” all explosive guitars and driving rhythm, then turns on the second track, surely intentionally, to the aptly named :Lightness.” Just two tracks in and we’ve already sampled from each end of the Death Cab for Cutie sound spectrum. So, what’s left for the rest of the album? A little of everything.

There is the two-minute pop brilliance of “The sound of Settling,: the heartbreaking “Tiny Vessels,” and two songs that make me think that Gibbard has fallen asleep more than once with Elliott Smith on the stereo (“Death of an Interior Decorator: and :A Lack of Color.”)

The gem of this album is the title track, which at eight minutes is sure to be a love-it-or-hate-it song. You see, Transatlanticism is an album about space and distance. “I wish the world was flat like the old days/then I could travel just by folding the map,” Gibbard laments early on the album. But it’s on Transatlanticism that he makes a quantum leap in his abilities as a songwriter. For the final five minutes of this song, the only words he sings are “I need you so much closer,” delivered in an increasingly tense and desperate repetition. This is no longer mere illustration of his frustrations with space and distance; this is Gibbard brilliantly making us EXPERIENCE them. And the length of the song is imperative to this, allowing the listener to feel the tension steadily swell until finally exploding in a choir insistently repeating “So come on!” Perfect.

Walla is also at his best on this album, squeezing everything out of Gibbard’s compositions that there is to be squeezed. Most notably, he beautifully ties songs together into movements by bleeding an effect or beat seamlessly from one track to the next, making this more than just a collection of individual songs. This is especially successful when the sound effect that begins the album is also reintroduced throughout the final two songs. Which means that if you allow the CD to end and begin again, the entire album becomes circular before screaming at you, “So, this is the New Year and I don’t feel any different.” Exactly. – (9/10)


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