It’s easy to see why Death Cab for Cutie would be labeled with the pejorative title of “wimp rockers”.
Ben Gibbard has a pixie of a voice, and his lyrics can strike people as either profound or precious.
I bought a used copy of The Photo Album without much prior knowledge of the band — aside from the perception that a lot of people buy its albums — and liked what I heard. But not enough to be affected too deeply.
(Maybe if I were in high school …)
Transatlanticism is a different story.
Thematically, Gibbard pretty much sticks to the usual M.O. — songs about everday events triggering wistfulness.
On “Title and Registration”, he lobbies for an effort to rename the glove compartment since nobody puts gloves in there anyway. Of course, he makes this observation after running across photos of an ex-lover in said compartment.
But musically, the album contains a lot of subtle touches that make it feel larger than it is.
The main technique that conveys this feeling is the bleeding of tracks from one to another. The first three songs of the album meld with nary a pause between them.
“Tiny Vessels” leads directly into the title track, and if left on repeat, “A Lack of Color” finishes the album with the same white noise that opens it, creating a seamless loop.
Taking the pauses out of an album can only work if the songs fit well enough to allow it, and the ones on Transatlanticism do. Even the tracks that stand on their own (the ones with the pauses) have a snug fit.
It also helps that the band plays the hell out of these songs. By comparrison, The Photo Album is genteel next to some of the crescendos Gibbard and company hammer out on Transatlanticism.
The only thing that makes the album stumble is the 8-minute title track. The long-winded drama of “Transatlanticism”, the song, makes it feel like it’s building momentum to a grand finale. But it’s placed smack near the middle of the album.
As a result, Transatlanticism, the album, feels like it should have finished a lot sooner than it does.
Getting over that hump may take a bit of work, but repeated listening of the album produces greater rewards. After a while, it becomes apparent — there’s a lot of good writing on this disc.