Death Cab for Cutie is one of the best examples of an alternative band that successfully marketed themselves to a mainstream audience after their 2005 release Plans, an album containing the popular tracks “Crooked Teeth”, “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. A ton of new attention came to the band with this release as Benjamin Gibbard’s soft voice and high range alongside the band’s energy and clever lyrics provided an easy sound to like; but the truth is that Plans was and still is a singles-heavy album that was less cohesive than other albums the band had already released. We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes in 2000 and The Photo Album were both great albums cover to cover, with the latter containing possibly the best Death Cab song ever in “Steadier Footing”.
Transatlantacism got placed in between The Photo Album and Plans and exists as the best Death Cab album because it relied on Gibbard’s songwriting ability rather than relying on pop song structure (an issue the band’s been struggling with recently). Most of the tracks on Transatlantacism are slow and simple so that the story and the song proceed together, rather than lyrics being stopgaps between choruses. “Title and Registration” is the same looping guitar part throughout the entire song, but that’s ok because Gibbard keeps your attention focused by providing you an ever progressing narrative told with a plethora of imagery. “Passenger Seat” does the same thing except this time it’s a piano, but once again it’s a beautiful track and an album highlight because it paves the way for Gibbard to sing lyrics “Then looking upwards I strain my eyes and try/To tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites/From the passenger seat as/You are driving me home.” Beauty can be found in simplicity, and that happens a lot on Transatlantacism.
The great thing about Death Cab during this time period is that they could have written fluff and probably would have been even more popular from it with the way the music industry seems to work, but they stayed true and provided as interesting a perspective as any other band during that time period. You wouldn’t expect Gibbard to be experiencing the same issues as you, but the opening lyrics of “Expo ’86″ tell the story about how “Sometime I think the cycle never ends/We Slide from top to bottom then we turn to climb again/And it seems that by the time that I have figured what it’s worth/The squeaking of our skin against the steel has gotten worse.” It’s not privileged, it’s a genuine quote from someone experiencing the very normal problem of insignificance as the rest of us. Things like that shouldn’t surprise me from a band that named themselves after the Bonzo Dog Band track “Death Cab For Cutie”, but it’s easy to forget how legitimate and talented of a band Death Cab was.
My personal favorite on Transatlantacism is and will probably always be “A Lack of Color”, where Gibbard’s drunken plea on the answering machine is a devastating listen as Gibbard reveals that he couldn’t even come up with a reason to tell her why she should stay. It’s a good representative of the album as a whole because each song succeeds for the same reason, it’s simplicity and being genuine, and as a whole it creates the best Death Cab album they ever made.
Best Tracks: “A Lack of Color”, “Title and Registration”, “Passenger Seat”