Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003)

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There are moments when bands turn a corner, where everything becomes a bit more tightened up, stronger, more prominent. Transatlanticism was that album for Death Cab For Cutie.

The corner this album turned for them took them from simply being an indie band to being something to contend with and watch. There were glimmers of this on their previous album, The Photo Booth, where bits of really thoughtful, meaningful guitar riffs would emerge from their signature chiming motifs — and where Ben Gibbard’s awkwardly insightful, heart-on-sleeves lyrics would land a significant punch without sounding overly, self-consiously melodramatic. It’s a small flaw that can be overlooked, but that can often drive me insane.

On the title track to Transatlanticism, Gibbard delivers one of those massive, gorgeous, everlasting riffs — the kind that elicits chills down the spine, the kind that signals the importance of music, and most importantly, the kind of thing that makes you want to reach for the repeat button just to hear it again and again, and you practically beg for the song to be filled with more of those riffs. It’s very strength is Gibbard’s sense of minimalism: He knows how powerful that riff is, and he knows that the longer he makes you wait the stronger your urge to hear it again will be.

And in “Title And Registration,” Gibbard takes one of his trademark odd subjects — the glove box of a car this time — and turns it into something meaningful and beautiful:

the glove compartment isn’t accurately named
and everybody knows it.
so i’m proposing a swift orderly change.

cause behind its door there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm
and all i find are souvenirs from better times
before the gleam of your taillights fading east
to find yourself a better life.

There were more — a lot more — like that on the album. And that’s exactly why I couldn’t keep this disc out of my player when it came out.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Johnson
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