I always admired the fashionable Death Cab for Cutie, but from a distance. Their previous work was soothing and comforting but it always seemed to lack a certain unclear quality. At times I felt like they were re-writing their own songs and frequently reusing the same ideas. Well, after a brief escape for the band and singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard achieving new found success with The Postal Service, they will no longer be admired from a distance, but from within. Death Cab for Cutie have noticeably developed in all aspects of their music, which is why my ears were drawn closer.
Transatlanticism is the type of album that exudes ingenuity and creativity. Each song holds distinct emotional fiber and character and a uniqueness that renders each moment to glisten. This dynamic separates their latest effort from their previous releases.
Gibbard’s songwriting and lyrical anecdotes are more strapping and coherent than ever. His words aren’t as flat out depressing and gloomy as previous efforts yet there are still enough tearjerker lines to comfort the sweater wearing emo kids who will closely read the lyrics with a box of Kleenex nearby. The main premise and theme of the lyrics on Transatlanticism is vastness and the distance it embodies. This theme is set in motion with the opening track “The New Year”, “I wish the world was flat like the old days/So I could travel just by folding the map/No more airplanes or speed-trains or freeways/There’d be no distance that could hold us back.”
As mentioned though, the down in the dumps yet cynical lyrics are still a main ingredient of the dominant formula that made Death Cab for Cutie the indie pop/rock powerhouse they are. The track “Tiny Vessels” is filled with these sentiments, “This is the moment that you know/That you told her that you loved her but you don’t/You touch her skin and then you think/That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.” The lyrics of Gibbard can be very simple at times, yet clever enough to reel you in and move you. The lyrics in “We Looked Like Giants” represent this sense of style brilliantly. “God bless the daylight, the sugary smell of springtime/Remembering when you were mine in a still suburban town/When every Thursday I’d brave those mountain passes/and you’d skip your early classes/And we’d learn how our bodies worked.”
The music too, must not be overlooked. Subtly experimental, it still holds that lush indie pop/rock essence; the pianos and keyboards are more leading and prominent as they propel and butter up the songs. The rhythmic guitars complement and harmonize the keys, which intermix to form a special continuity and stability that helps the album flow and blend nicely. New drummer Jason McGerr (of Eureka Farm fame) adds a sense of balance and poise to the music that was noticeably lacking somewhat before. The album also includes some unusual studio production sound effects that neatly fit into the compositions while remaining passive amongst the music.
Transatlanticism can best be observed as evolution. Death Cab for Cutie ran their previous course of music into the ground; but after some time off and a rejuvenation of sorts, they have produced their best and most complete work of art to date.