Death Cab For Cutie is an indie rock band that has seen major success and I can easily say that it is very well deserved. They’ve been around since 1998 with their debut Something About Airplanes, following it up with their acclaimed We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes in 2000. In 2001 they released their third attempt, The Photo Album, and as well recognized as these albums are now, at the time they actually all failed to show up on any major charts. Fast forward to 2005, and the band saw commercial success with their fifth studio album Plans, with singles “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”. But in between that time frame, we were introduced to the bands fourth studio album in 2003, Transatlanticism which was their first push into the mainstream world, charting at number 97 on the Billboard 200, which is a huge feat for an indie rock group. While some fans might not be too pleased about this pop territory crossover, Transatlanticism was rightfully awarded the attention it received.
Transatlaticism is set up as a concept album based on a long distance relationship, exploring all the feelings and thoughts that accompany. It reminds me a lot of We Have The Facts, just a lot less melancholy and more polished. The interesting aspect of this album is the way each song has a very distinct perception that goes along with it, and how each song is encompasses a certain aspect of this relationship. Each song is essentially a concept of its own but each one fits like a chapter in a storybook to create the album as a whole. We open up this story with “The New Year”, a song that discusses the idea of not feeling like anything has changed although we’re presented with a fresh start by starting a new year. After this introduction is where we really get into the meat and potatoes of the theme of the project. The next few tracks discuss certain aspects of this romantic relationship that the concept is tethered around, like “Lightness” which describes the frustration of not being about to get into the other persons head and “Title and Registration” where we see our narrator reminiscing on good memories with a person. I especially would like to point out that with the latter, we are presented such specific imagery that it almost feels like you could step into the music itself, and it’s also the first time we see references about a car, which is a consistent sub-theme present on a few other songs on the record. “Passenger Seat” is a happier moment on here where our narrator is thinking back on driving through the country side with your lover and feels like a movie, and “We Looked Like Giants” is an upbeat song taking the idea of your first young relationship in high school and the excitement that follows suit. But it gets even better. Quite possibly the two most remarkable tracks out of the eleven are right in the middle, track 6 which is “Tiny Vessels” and track 7 which is our title track “Transatlanticism”. Both of these are insanely frustrating and incredibly honest, where “Tiny Vessels” describes using a person and not actually caring about them, and “Transatlanticism” is the opposite, where our narrator describes longing for a true lover.
These themes and concepts on their own are relatable but they would not be well done without the overall tone and instrumental. The project is centered around the bands well defined indie rock sound but what is even more exciting is that there are certain aspects of other genres as well. “Tiny Vessels” lingers into a heavier rock territory, “Title and Registration” has an almost folky feeling and “Passenger Seat” is piano backed and barely sounds “indie” at all. The other songs are all perfectly layered from “Death of an Interior Decorator”, “Expo ‘86” and “The Sound of Settling” , and contain some catchy melodies and entertaining guitar parts. The entire project is very relaxed when it comes to the instrumental and could be described as minimal at times, yet is used to its full potential to create such distinct images for each song. “The New Year” is one that doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere and doesn’t contain any big guitar solos or dazzling effects, perfectly coinciding with the message the track is trying to convey. “The Sound of Settling” is ridiculously upbeat, and although most people would associate settling with a negative connotation, the enthusiastic backing tells us otherwise; settling is actually a nice feeling sometimes. “Tiny Vessels” is heavy and dark, corresponding with feelings of guilt, and “Transatlanticism” is repetitive and perfectly conveys the feeling of longing and waiting for something to happen.
The thing that really made this record work was how well done the lyrical and instrumental portion is, with both complimenting each other perfectly. This record carries itself with such simplicity in the musical portion yet yields so much emotion and depth with the lyrics, with both of these aspects balancing each other out instead of one outweighing the other. This album also proved that indie could expand into other territories and showcased the bands immaculate ability to drive such emotion into their songs, and create such a densely packed yet extremely enjoyable record. Listening to this project really does feel like reading a book, and one of the absolute best features of it is how each song is wonderful on its own but all eleven tracks fit so nicely together to create a full storyline. Most artists struggle making one decent song but Death Cab For Cutie has a knack for making a whole concept album full of them.
Along with it being a sonically outstanding piece of work, this record is one that, upon even first listen, made me feel normal. Beyond it just being relatable, it explored thoughts I couldn’t organize myself but having something in song form to relate to made me realize that it was okay to feel certain things that I didn’t want to acknowledge at first. It’s okay to want to be in love, or want a person to be by your side, or reminisce on old memories, or express guilt without wanting to cry, or come to terms with the fact that not much changes between December 31st and January 1st. Going beyond just being uncomfortable, some of these topics are unbearable at times but the band has a certain charisma that makes you listen over and over again.