Music Reviews

Death Cab For Cutie Transatlanticism

(Barsuk / Fierce Panda) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

For the past four years, Death Cab For Cutie have always been there for me. The gloomy pop of We Have the Facts and are Voting Yes fit perfectly into the quiet moments of my junior year, played hundreds of times in a hilariously misguided attempt at wooing a certain girl; The Photo Album entered my life as I stumbled my way towards graduation, warming the cold confines of my last apartment with far more grace that our broken baseboard heaters ever did; Something About Airplanes was rediscovered just before a 45 day sojourn through Europe, the songs providing the bulk of a soundtrack played against a landscape of ancient ruins and boring museums, looping gently behind frustrating conversations with beautiful Italian girls and endless hours spent staring out the window of speeding trains.

And now comes Transatlanticism, which has all the trademarks of a Death Cab album: soft arpeggiated guitars, hypnotic drumming, with Benjamin Gibbard's airy vocals and lyrics of gentle resignation providing the backbone of the songs. But this time around, it's just not as convincing. It's like when the Cure started writing pop music - it was nice enough, but it just didn't quite work. It simply wasn't compelling.

Personally, I blame Postal Service. Within the bounds of his side project, Gibbard felt free to take a more distanced view in his lyrics, replacing the stark intimacy of Death Cab with overwrought and occasionally embarrassing caricatures of love and loss. And, unfortunately, some of that carries over to this album. In fact, songs like Title and Registration and the unforgivable Expo '86 sound quite a bit like Postal Service, but devoid of the electronic blips and synthesized beats that served as the songs' saving grace. The Sound of Settling continues the trend, if in spirit only, with a melody so sugary it borders on hyperglycemic. The majority of the music here, however, seems more a continuation of 2001's Stability EP, by which I mean: lifeless and meandering. In fact, the title track, which is at least 5 minutes too long, and the even more tedious Passenger Seat pretty much define "boring" in musical terms.

That being said, even Death Cab's worst moments are superior to the combined output of many of today's bands. And their best moments here stand up fairly well against their past accomplishments. On the gorgeous Tiny Vessels and Nick Drake-throwback A Lack of Color, the stars realign and everything is right with the world again. Album opener The New Year picks up where The Photo Album left off, further developing the strange but rewarding synthesis of indie pop and arena rock, the production skills on display in We Looked Like Giants prove that guitarist Chris Walla could easily quit the band and make a comfortable living twiddling knobs for just about anyone he chose, and Lightness sounds like a subtly beautiful outtake from We Have the Facts and are Voting Yes.

Overall, though, Transatlanticism feels like the stretch of time during a long-term relationship, when the original electricity has faded and a general sense of malaise has permeated your days together. It's just comfortable and pleasant enough to convince yourself to stick around - never good enough to be satisfying, nor bad enough to be disappointing. So you dutifully grit your teeth and continue on, trusting that this feeling of emptiness will be fleeting.

Or, in the case of Death Cab For Cutie, you just wait a couple years for the next album. And hope.