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Rock Solid: Death Cab for Cutie

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we pseudo-scientifically determine the most beloved album in an artist's catalog. I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the critical point-of-view and Amazon offers the fan perspective. The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits). In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question.

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I mentioned in Death Cab for Cutie's that two of their albums ranked clearly above their other seven. Those two were Plans (2005) and We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (2000). They were statistically tied at eight-and-a-half-stars each, but by the slimmest of margins Plans won the tiebreaker (61% five star reviews on Amazon versus 60% for We Have the Facts...).

You may by screaming in your mind, 'WHAT ABOUT TRANSATLANTICISM??!!??' I thought the same. All Music Guide gave the 2003 album four-and-a-half stars. Ben Gibbard himself, who ranked it number one in a Noisey article, saying, "I know for a fact I will never have a year again like 2003. The Postal Service record came out, Transatlanticism came out. These two records will be on my tombstone, and I’m totally fine with that. I’ve never had a more creatively inspired year, and the proof is in the pudding." 

So why wasn't it even in contention for the top pick? It was the Amazon rating, which currently sits at a three-and-a-half stars, lowest of all the DCFC albums, even their Rock Bottom, The Photo Album. This seemed fishy, so I dug deeper into the ratings. Turns out that 31 out of the 39 one-star ratings were not about the poor quality of the album but issues with vinyl pressing. The same was true for eight of the 15 two-star ratings.

Now I realize there's always some element of this in ratings, people who thought they were rating the manufacturer or the seller rather than the quality of the work itself. But I've never seen it happen so egregiously. Taking out the complaints about the vinyl vaulted Transatlanticism's average to four-and-a-half stars and first place in the Rock Solid ratings.

As it probably should be.

AMG's Rob Theakston wrote that the record was the "the most focused and most mature work in [Death Cab for Cutie's] entire catalog." Granted, when he wrote this they only had four records. Theakston goes on, "The band has never sounded more cohesive, the track sequencing is brilliant, and it caps off a triumphant year for not only Gibbard, but a band whose time and greater recognition is finally due."

Amazon reviewers focused mostly on the albums consistency and emotional honesty, as typified by "KG"'s review: "Transatlanticism is also an album that demands multiple listenings. It is textured, complex, sensitive, and often quite beautiful. To try to nail down standout tracks seems irrelevant, as the whole is best heard as an album - a journey through heartache and ultimately, redemption."

Others focused on its longevity and repeatability, like "J. Rice": "I got this album about 5 years ago I guess but I still listen to it."

And some have more specific reason to recommend it. "We have all DCfC's music," wrote "squirrelsosueme." "Our son is a founding member of the band.We had two relatives who didn't own this CD...all the others but not Trans. They needed this particular piece of the discography." They titled the review "Death Cab's best."

Transatlanticism was my first Death Cab disc, and I was blown away at the time. I still find it engaging, but it's not my favorite of theirs. In fact, I'm more likely to put on any of the discs that have followed it (from Plans all the way up to Thank You For Today).  But my very favorite is Narrow Stairs (2008) which features songwriting just as sharp, but more propulsive and outward-looking and enjoyably dark-humored.


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