In the spring of 2003 I finished my junior year at Northwestern College and decided to try to find a summer job in the Twin Cities and take a couple of summer classes. I moved into an apartment with a friend and began to furiously send out resumes and applications to any science or health care organization I could find. I was able to get one interview out of all of that and no job. Needless to say, money was extremely scarce and I remember eating peanut butter sandwiches for most of my meals. We watched a lot of The Simpsons and played a lot of Perfect Dark and listened to and playing a lot of music. During that summer, my friend and I began to really appreciate music together, discovering bands and sharing them with each other. We formed our own band, “Rocket Science” and recorded an EP. We even scraped up the money to go to some concerts by bands like Further Seems Forever and The Juliana Theory (“emo” was the word of the year).
My friend was the one who introduced me to the album Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie. Death Cab was just on the verge of breaking into the mainstream, but were still little known outside Portland. This is the album that put them on the musical map and got them signed to a major label. When listening to the album, you’ll notice right away that it’s meant to be played start to finish. The band took care to craft the transitions between songs so as to give the impression that the album is one singular entity.
The songs are all little stories about love – lost love, found love, remembered love and love you wish you could forget. Sure, the world has a lot of silly love songs, but Ben Gibbard’s lyrical talents give these songs a lot of personality. There’s “Title and Registration”, which relates a story about opening a glove box to look for documents and instead finding pictures taken with a now-ex and finding yourself blind-sided by regret. Then there’s “We Looked Like Giants”, a song about the giddiness of young love.
The centerpiece of the album is the title track: an 8 minute, slow burning ember of a song of longing for someone on the other side of the ocean. As the song goes on, the yearning stirs the ember into a blaze as the band pounds out the chords and Gibbard pleads “I need you so much closer. | So come one, come on…” It’s a simple and yet powerful song. This is the song that really drew me into the album. I liked that the band let the song breath and didn’t treat it like a pop song. They let the emotion of the song influence the arrangement itself. This was the beginning of my love for long-form songs which will be apparent as the rest of this list plays out.
Soon after the release of Transatlanticism, Death Cab signed to a major label and started popping up all over the place. Their mainstream success prompted many fans to revoke their adoration and declare the band a sell-out. I think Death Cab navigated the transition to a major label with aplomb, but I will maintain that Transatlanticism is the finest album the band has produced. It is an album that I come back to again and again and I enjoy it every time I do.