“Transatlanticism” isn’t a real word. But if it was, the definition would read something like this: “When the geographic barriers between two people reflect, or parallel, the emotional obstacles of the relationship or individual.” Yeah, something like that. Transatlanticism, the fourth album from quasi-Seattle indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie, attempts to negotiate the expanse of a long-distance (or distant, or deceased) relationship. The album begins with “The New Year,” its fuzzy, crisscrossing guitar parts bleeding into each other, and lead singer Benjamin Gibbard observing a modern tradition like an alien: “The clanking of crystal/And explosions off in the distance…It’s self-assigned penance for problems with easy solutions.” The album is ripe with such keen observations, some more simple than others (“A glove compartment is inaccurately named, and everybody knows it,” he sings on “Title & Registration”). Gibbard views the world through the metaphors of a weary lover—“If I move my place in line I’ll lose,” he fears on the radio-friendly “Expo ‘86,” while his bitter tone is cheekily juxtaposed with cheery hand-claps and a “ba-ba” hook on “The Sound Of Settling.” It doesn’t hurt that Gibbard’s vocal is boyish and innocent, and often reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith. Guitarist Christopher Walla (who also works double-time as producer) gives the record an intricate and textured feel, but he strips the songs down to bare basics at the same time, each track cascading flawlessly into the next. Death Cab’s crowning achievement is the album’s centerpiece title track, which begins with the simulated sounds of a train track, followed by ascending chord changes which evoke hopeful melancholy and lyrics that display Gibbard’s seemingly tired desperation: “I thought it less like a lake and more like a moat,” he says of the ocean separating him from his lover. The only thing missing is a dramatic men’s choir. Oh wait, there it is!
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