Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
Barsuk, 2003 (2013 Reissue)
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2014
The only thing you need to know about my relationship is that, in the late summer of 2005, I listened to this at top volume in my new bedroom at my first apartment while hammering together a shitty particle board dresser at midnight. All while singing along and getting very emotional. It was an emotional time, the first time I’d dealt with relationship-y relationship drama since high school. Because there is no line that fits your complicated relationship drama like “I NEED YOU SO MUCH CLOSER.” I also drew a comic comparing my relationships with Death Cab for Cutie songs that was never finished because it kept evolving and by the time I met Jenny it was the most embarrassing thing I’d ever created. Most of the songs were culled from Transatlanticism, because of course they were. No album in recent memory really captures all of the embarrassing sadness of suburban white kids falling in love.
And as a suburban white kid, I have a special place in my heart for Death Cab for Cutie’s best, most complete album (but only if you discount The Postal Service’s Give Up, which is the best Death Cab album Death Cab didn’t make). This thing oozes with sentimentality, and my sentimental attachment to it makes it hard to analyze it with any sense of objectivity. Transatlanticism has some cringe-worthy moments. The lyric sheet for “Title & Registration” and the unbearably awful earworm of “The Sound of Settling” are rough. It also has some big, dramatic grand gestures like the build and break in “Expo ‘86” and one of the album’s truest, most affecting tracks “We Looked Like Giants,” which cuts through all the sad sack shit with lines like “We looked like giants in the back of my gray subcompact/ Fumbling to make contact as the others slept inside.” The spare closer “A Lack of Color” delivers twenty times more emotional impact than the title track that feels structured to make your heartstrings bend and break. It caps an album that, while not traditionally Emo, might as well be because goddamn, so many emotions.
Though sentimentality reigns, it’s not really a bad thing. Or I can’t really recognize it as a bad thing. Like I said, I sang along to “Transatlanticism” while hammering tiny nails into the back of a dresser. That shit was deeply felt. But my favorite tracks on the album were the ones like “We Looked Like Giants” and “Tiny Vessels.” Those tracks captured the ugliness of young love in a way that contrasts so nicely with lines like “When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride/ When you need directions, then I’ll be the guide for all time.” There’s nothing sexy or sweet about a line like “You touch her skin and then you think/ That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.” But it’s that ugly truth that makes Transatlanticism live and breathe. It’s a messy document about the inherently messy nature of love between the ages of 15 and 25. It’s inherently built for the nascent emotions of high school kids, but like a good young adult novel there’s enough truth in it for anyone to enjoy. I put all this emotional stuff behind me when Jenny and I started dating, but I still love this album, and I love looking back at all the heartbreak, all the awkward first dates, and all the uncoordinated emotionally fraught fooling around that occasionally dotted my late teens and early twenties. It was ugly, but it deserves respect because its through all that awkward and depressing stuff that you mature and make yourself ready to be an actual partner to someone instead of putting them on a pedestal or being a total dick.
Sometimes I think I’d like to reach through time and tell my angsty 17 year old self “Hey, it’s gonna be OK” because when I was 17 all I wanted was for my grown-up self to reach back in time and say, “Hey, it’s gonna be OK. You’re gonna marry your soulmate and you’re gonna have the most beautiful little baby, but you’ve gotta get through all this stupid, childish romance stuff before you can learn what love really is.” When I was at my worst, that’s what I wanted most: some sort of verification that things would work out and that I could worry a little less when waiting around for so and so to call. It’s why I want to be a young adult novelist and why everything I write automatically heads in the direction of hyper-emotional 18 year olds. I just want to say “Hey, it’s gonna be OK.” It's pretty much impossible for me to separate this album from the last ten years, and a lot of people feel the same way. It's not dated, per se, but it draws up the big fat feelings of younger, more vulnerable years.
"A Lack of Color"