by Rob Theakston
As musical lunacy goes, things have gotten as crazy as it gets for Death Cab for Cutie since 2002’s You Can Play These Songs with Chords compilation. A wildly successful tour with Dismemberment Plan, a collaboration for singer Ben Gibbard with emo-electronic guru Dntel under the Postal Service moniker, and a whole new legion of fans swooning to Gibbard’s lyrics as if he were a modern day answer to Kiss Me-era Robert Smith have all amassed considerable hype around Transatlanticism. But the group proves themselves more than equal to the task, answering the call and proving the cynics wrong with their most focused and most mature work in their entire catalog. Transatlanticism wastes absolutely no time and dives in head first with “The New Year,” one of the most melodramatic openings to an album since the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The mellow, mixed-meter percussion and dense atmosphere of “Lightness” is a brilliant lead into the pop-happy “Expo ’86” and “The Sound of Settling” before setting up the climatic and intensely dramatic title track.
Unconsciously taking a page from Blur’s “Sing,” the hypnotic drumming and guitar call and responses through the eight-minute climax of the album are backed with a singalong finale that unquestionably will have every audience on the next tour singing along and holding up their lighters. And while most albums would be left exhausted after such a track, the group keeps things moving, albeit at a much slower pace than compared to the anthems that packed the first half. Gibbard seamlessly makes the transition between songs that full out rock to songs that are comparable to Elliott Smith’s finest hour with great ease. But it’s Gibbard’s poetic lyrics and signature introspection that remain a bench mark for Death Cab; and it’s the group’s maturity as musicians as well as songwriters that make Transatlanticism such a decadently good listen from start to finish. 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.