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Death Cab for Cutie release evokes emotion

Liam Farrell | Wednesday, April 7, 2004

It is probably difficult for most people to believe that the Fox teen drama “The O.C.” has the best soundtrack on television. Sure, the plotlines have been recycled through dozens of other shows on the WB and hardly have the originality of “The Wonder Years” or its female counterpart “My So-Called Life,” but the music supervisor for Fox’s new hit has used some of the most original and vibrant music alive today.For most people, “The O.C.” would have been their first exposure to the music of Death Cab for Cutie, the Washington state quartet who cut their teeth on the indie music scene, and whose latest album, “Transatlanticism,” has the potential to spread their music to many more fans and will surely be seen in a few years as their sell-out album.None of this, however, should be a distraction or detraction from the fragile beauty on display throughout this record. The musical composition is strong, the lyrics, although bizarre and hard to decipher at certain points, are heartbreaking, and the album flows remarkably well. Death Cab for Cutie is obviously filled with talented musicians and writers. Lead singer and guitarist Ben Gibbard’s voice is unique, seemingly only a breath away from collapsing into tears.”Transatlanticism” can be loosely seen as a concept album, certainly in spirit if not in direct relationship. As can be inferred from the title, the record is concerned with the limits of love and communication across distances – the hardships and barriers that exist in long-distance relationships and the difficulties that arise in trying to keep it alive. At times there are moments of exquisite happiness and memory, such as the simple narrative of “Passenger Seat,” which quietly describes a ride home with the speaker’s love. Songs such as this are in stark contrast to the more frequent tragedies, such as the lonely “Tiny Vessels,” which takes place in “the moment / when you told her that you loved her but you don’t,” with a bridge that is almost demonic in its ferocity and suddenness. “Title and Registration,” with a stark and bizarre melody reminiscent of Tom Waits, details searching through the glove compartment of a car, maybe even the one from “Passenger Seat,” and finding old photos of better times with a lover – pictures the speaker had tried so hard to forget.Death Cab for Cutie is able to weave an entire narrative from songs that are usually about only single, everyday moments, and that is admirable. To be able to evoke such emotion, sadness and joy from short descriptions of brief events is not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone who writes pop songs. On a certain level, that is why this album is able to excel through its ability to communicate across each of its songs. Although the centerpiece of its concept may be the obstacles we all face in trying to express ourselves to even the most important people in our lives, especially when they are not sitting across from us, the irony is that the greater message and its effectiveness, are so clear and decipherable.Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” is a beautiful album of sad love songs. It will not save popular music or lead to a songwriting revolution, but for anyone in search of some bare honesty and unabashed emotion, this record is essential. Although sometimes it strays too far into stereotyped emo territory, the songs found here will find a safe place in any music collection.

Contact Liam Farrell at lfarrell@nd.edu