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Death Cab for Cutie | Transatlanticism (Barsuk/Fierce Panda)
It's been a damn fine year so far for Death Cab fans. First we had a bouncy CD from Benjamin Gibbard's electro-pop side project Postal Service, then he released an acoustic split-mini-album project with AmAnSet's Andrew Kenny, and now here's a new DCfC album. The songs on both the previous releases could in no way be accused of being side-project dust-offs, and still there were enough tunes left to make this unarguably the Cabs' strongest album yet.
Yes, it's even better than 'The Photo Album' and approaches perfection, in this usually taciturn reviewer's opinion. One of the ways it does this is by simply having not one dud track on it ?? after a few listens the songs just pop up and sound special one after another. It's almost uncanny. Another way it approaches perfection is in the sequencing, the way song follows song.
The disc begins with The New Year, the biggest and most rocking track, and hence the obvious opener. Tracks two to four fade into each other, making for a trio of mid-pace pop perfection. The sound is of guitar/bass/drums with tasteful electronic thickening. The Sound of Settling comes next and is a self-contained burst of catchiness before another threesome, but this threesome is the one that I want on the walkman in my coffin. The best three successive tracks ever in the history of civilisation? I think so, but I hesitate to be so enthusiastic about anything. Tiny Vessels starts us out with aching-heart vocals and ringing guitars and soon the line "She was beautiful but she didn 't mean a thing to me." It beefs up a bit, and then goes a bit spacey with some distorted piano, before blending into the title-track. This almost eight-minute wonder is the best of the best, building from plaintive piano chords and sad electric guitar strums into the refrain "I need you so much closer" and a big, long finish. (If I said that this song could be Death Cab's Freebird or Hey Jude you'd think I was bonkers, so I won't.) This then quietly piano-segues into Passenger Seat, a wistful and nostalgiac continuation of mood and quality full of fragrent word pictures. The album could end here, but doesn't ?? three more goodies follow, ending with A Lack of Colour, the simply strummiest song on here.
The theme of the album is home, as Mr G. mentions elsewhere in this issue, and the tone is nostalgic. Eleven tracks, no filler, no one track scoring less than '8 out of 10'. To say anymore would be to labour my excitement. Album of the year, at the very least.

Jeff Cotton
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003