Death Cab For Cutie are well into an admirable indie rock
career. They’ve constructed a recognizable sound for themselves,
established a relatively large fan base, deflected advances from
major labels and honed their songwriting craft to a fine point. All
that, and four albums in, singer/guitarist Benjamin Gibbard still
takes home the award for “Most Likely to Drop an Awe-Inspiring
Couplet On Your Jaded Ass.”

Mira Levitan
(Courtesy of Barsuk Records)
“Cutie” is a subjective term, I guess.

So why, then, does the band’s fourth full-length album,
Transatlanticism, sound so thoroughly uninspired? The band’s
sound is polished with age and professionalism but returns
otherwise intact. Gibbard’s deft vocal melodies are as serene and
autumnal as on any previous album. So what the hell’s the
problem?

As it turns out, the band’s problem lies in the fact that their
sound is simply too established. The lack of variety, so forgivable
on early albums, now feels like an obstacle. “Tiny Vessels” and
“Title and Registration” are the most blatant offenders, failing to
distinguish themselves sonically amongst the band’s catalog. The
title track doesn’t fare much better, as it’s soft piano intro
turns into nearly eight minutes of snowy slush. Gibbard falters far
too often for a lyricist of his talent: The repetition of phrases
like “I need you so much closer” simply aren’t up to par, and his
penchant for vivid, wrenching storytelling is curiously absent on
most of the album.

It’s not all bad, though. “The New Year” is as explosive and
rhythmic as anything in the band’s catalog, and “Expo ’86” is
marvelously addictive. Elsewhere, the lilting folk of “A Lack of
Color” is an inspired lament, and “We Looked Like Giants” is
notable for it’s aggressive thrash, even if the lyrics fall
flat.

Transatlantisicm‘s most telling song is “The Sound of
Settling.” Falling in the middle of the album, its singsong chorus
is a sunny slice of pop heaven, and the chiming guitars are as
uplifting as they are pretty. Unfortunately, it mimics the album a
little too well: Transatlanticism is enjoyable, sophisticated pop,
but it lands too close to the middle to be truly memorable. The
sound of settling indeed.

Rating: 2.5 stars.

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *