Death Cab For Cutie’s fourth full-length Transatlanticism turned ten years old last month, and PropertyOfZack is launching our next Decade feature in honor of the stunning album today! We have commentary on the record from POZ team members Zac Lomas, Adrienne Fisher, and Erik van Rheenen, as well as Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald, so enjoy reading and reblog to let us know your thoughts on Transatlanticism ten years later!
How Transatlanticism holds up in 2013
In my more formative years (think ages 16-18), I fell in love with indie icons Death Cab For Cutie while working as a camp counselor. My co-counselor would play a mix of mellow songs each night in hopes that the soothing sounds would incite slumber, and while it may have worked on the wee ones, my sleep anxiety failed to surrender. So what inevitably happened was that I listened to “Passenger Seat” off Death Cab’s Transatlanticism approximately 15-20 times per night…and I loved it. From that point on, not only did I realize the genius of the Seattle quartet, but also the brilliance of that album. And while my days of obsessively listening to Death Cab albums have passed in the rear view mirror, I still find myself coming back to them with a smile on my face. Transatlanticism is not only a complete album in every sense of the word, but it’s an indie masterpiece, and ten years later, its relevance and resonance are greater than ever. Transatlanticism is an album for lovers, dreamers, and the ever-hopeless romantic, regardless of the year. – Zac Lomas
Most important song on Transatlanticism
Transatlanticism was one of the first full albums I really got into as a wee lad, in the sense that I didn’t just buy the single on iTunes then play it on repeat out of my iPod mini while air-guitaring around my room. The whole thing blew me away every time. I swore off American Idiot for a year. Instead of barreling through power chord progressions on my horribly un-tunable Epiphone Jr., I found myself spending most nights plucking out the melody to “Title and Registration” and trying to figure a way to get to the mall the next day so I could buy one of those “capo” things.
Death Cab leap-frogged way over their indie rock peers with the composition of “Title and Registration.” Somehow, fuzzed-out bass and cheap drum samples hold down one of the most emotive songs on the record. This peculiar instrumentation—for a mostly acoustic song—is what makes “Title and Registration” such a memorable indie ballad. The dudes didn’t play by the rules. And then the lyrics. Oh man, the lyrics. Ben Gibbard spends the whole first verse and chorus impeccably illustrating a heart-smashing feeling without even mentioning the damn thing he’s upset about! And of course, who could forget: “Now that it’s gone it’s like it wasn’t there at all / And here I rest where disappointment and regret collide.” Game over. “Title and Registration.” Take a lesson, kids. – Jake Ewald
Did Death Cab succeed in following up Transatlanticism?
It’s kind of insane to realize that Transatlanticism, Death Cab’s breakout album, was already their fourth full-length, yet the fact that it took them some time to strike a shining medium between sparse indie rock and slick melodies couldn’t make more sense in the world. Plenty of fantastic records are often an accident; Transatlanticism certainly wasn’t, and neither was Plans, the 2005 follow-up. Released on major label Atlantic Records (after the band spent many years on the indie Barsuk), Plans saw pretty expansive success after it was released, from a Saturday Night Live appearance, to a Grammy nomination, to all sorts of treatment and visibility that plenty of indie bands could never even dream of seeing. But as I said, it was no accident – Plans is an excellent record that understandably branches away from the core style of Transatlanticism.
The band messes more with synthesizers and writes more songs that tend to spiral away into nothingness instead of closing its fist around a chorus, which at points is devastating and fantastic (“What Sarah Said”) and other times disorienting and misplaced (“Different Names for the Same Thing”). But where Transatlanticism was lyrically rooted in setting and geography, Plans takes the next step and finds itself fixated in the bigger, universal themes of life, love, and death. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is the quietest declaration of Romeo-and-Juliet romance that this generation will ever see, while “Marching Bands of Manhattan” insists that “your love is gonna drown” shortly before “Soul Meets Body” lets you know that “if the silence takes you, then I hope it takes me too.” Horribly depressing, yes, but a beautiful and poetic take on the bleak ideas that have nowhere else to live but these solemn, dignified songs. – Adrienne Fisher