The later years - a more recent photo of DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE (Photo by Ryan Russell)

The later years – a more recent photo of DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
(Photo by Ryan Russell)

Distance remains a fascinating aspect. No matter in which form you have to deal with it. On their fourth album Transatlanticism American indie-rock institution DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE dealed a lot with distance in a romantic ‘love story’ like way. Now, ten years after the release of the album we have to deal with a distance in terms of time. A lot has changed during the past decade. Capitalism lost its mind, indie music its credibility while some things remain untouched as well. And although many people might argue that DEATH CAB have lost their former brilliance they managed to stay around, currently working on their eighth studio album. And although Transatlanticism was their fourth, it was – in some way – the first one for the band. It gave them a lot more attention and opened their music for a bigger audience ultimately resulting in the fact that the 2005 follow-up Plans became the band’s first major label release.

DCFC - Transatlanticism

But most of it – the songs managed to remain over the past ten years. Within the first moments of opening track This New Year you’ll find yourself returning to a different moment a time. A moment of purer innocence. A moment where the melancholy of the DEATH CAB‘s sound perfectly fitted to the bittersweet lyrics of band leader Ben Gibbard. Many fans and critics claim that it marks the ultimate combination of all band elements. A zenith in young years. Although you might always argue if Transatlanticism is the best DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE record it, it surely is the one with the most memorable songs of the band. The enigmatic opener provides optimism at the start although it quickly puts it into perspective. “I wish the world was flat like the old days / then I could travel just by folding a map. No more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways / there’d be no distance that can hold us back” sings Gibbard. His new year starts with the aspect of distance and so does the record. Of course, it’s ultimately resulting in the stunning eight minute long title track and it’s yearning key line “I need you so much closer.”

Tattooed lyircs of the title track. Source of picture right here.

Tattooed lyircs of the title track.
Source of picture right here.

The record was heavily inspired by a long distance relationship Gibbard was going through while writing the songs. It’s a universal theme that helps grounding these songs, making them timeless. The intimacy of a lonesome nightly drive home with the loved once gets a certain poetic aspect in a fascinating song like Passenger Seat. Something so trivial becomes a moment of perfection. But the are the lighter – and still way too bittersweet – aspects of the album. There are darker aspects. Tiny Vessels is such a song. A gentle swan song to a temporary affair. ‘There was a girl with light brown streaks, and she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.’
The realization of this fact marks a nice theme for an indie-ballad. There’s no love, no strings playing and no happy end. ‘It was vile and it was cheap’ – nothing more. Gibbard continues his search for love. Ironically him and his long distance girlfriend moved together after the recording of the album. But they parted ways. ‘This is fact not fiction, for the first time in years’ sings Gibbard in the closing A Lack Of Colour. How bittersweet does it sound in retrospect since he’s still struggeling with his love life in 2013. Just ask Zooey Deschanel.

Transatlanticism might just be one moment in time. But on the other side it is timeless. The songs still work ten years later and will work ten years from now. There’ll always be love that is doomed by distance and logistical problems, there’ll always be foul temptations in the night, yearning lovers and all the heartache this produces. But also all that solace love can give once it works. Combine it with Gibbards tender voice and the wise and intelligent words and you’ll get great song moments. Transatlanticism bridges the gab between indie and pop, marking a turning point in the sound and understanding of DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE. Maybe a certain end of innocence and a gain of ‘pop’ self-esteem on the other side. But on the other hand this could be a bit too much of an interpretation. What remains is a timeless honesty, something that will light up a spark inside you, no matter if you’re in your early twenties or forties. Because despite seeing things from a distance, their original nature remains.

‘Transatlanticism’ has been recently re-released via Barsusk Records on vinyl and in digital form. The new issue also includes a bonus disc with demo versions.