Thursday, January 01, 2004

19. Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism (2003)

"So this is the new year / and I don't feel any different." So goes the first line of Transatlanticism, in what seems like a statement of jaded ennui. But the narrator goes on to reveal that though the new year is so celebrated as a time for fresh starts, it means nothing to him because he's still separated from someone he loves: "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."

This whole album is really about travel and distances, both literal and figurative. There are two songs (Title And Registration and Passenger Seat) using cars as scenes for romantic despair and contentment, respectively. The title track, fittingly, is the center of the theme. A piano-driven, slow-burning epic, the song uses an extended geological metaphor to build to the final lines. After describing the ocean that has formed between them, songwriter Ben Gibbard tells the object of his affection that "the distance is quite simply much too far for me to row / I need you so much closer."

I've written before that lyrics don't really matter in pop music. You don't need to be able to understand them to enjoy the song, they just have to sound good and be easy to sing along with. I stand by that, but I won't deny that really good lyrics are so much icing on the cake, ice cream on the pie, marshmallows in the hot chocolate, etc.

Gibbard, DCFC's main songwriter, is a gifted confectioner. Every song contains at least one line that stands out in a good way. Take this one from Lightness for example: "Your heart is a river that flows from your chest through every organ/ And your brain is the dam and I am the fish who can't reach the core." It sounds odd, but the melody and music really sell it to the point that I feel like I know exactly what he's trying to say.

The Postal Service, Gibbard's side project, recieved space on several end-of-the-year-lists, and I think that's a great record. But I like this one even more. The lyrics on both albums are equally top-notch, but where The Postal Service backs Gibbard's wonderful melodies with electronic blips and beats, DCFC's sound is much more organic. Traditional guitar, piano, drums, and bass are all important, as are subtle background harmonies. This is definitely indie-rock, but there's a balance of delicate and powerful, loud and soft that keep the album fresh.

Rating: A
Fave Song: Death Of An Interior Designer