Would You Like Some Cheese To Go With That Whine?

Mar 7, 2004 (Updated Mar 7, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Well-written, good the first couple times

Cons:Over the top emotion, very pessimistic, too complacent, whiny vocals, gets old quickly

The Bottom Line: Give this one a spin or two, but the over the top emotion, pessimistic attitude, and whiny vocals give this one a very short shelf-life. Definition of "sad bastard music."

Death Cab For Cutie's Transatlanticism is like a new friend: at first, their honesty and raw emotion may seem refreshing, but after hanging around them for awhile, it sounds more and more like incessant whining and you try to avoid them at all costs. Although there are several individual songs on this album that are pretty good, there's something extremely unlikeable about it that repels me from it. Perhaps it's my disdain for emo in general, but I think it runs deeper than that. I'll admit, the first time I heard it, I was pretty impressed. However, the more I listened to it, the more I began to hate it. While the lyrics are very well-written and suggest a capability of something much better than this, the emotion is WAY over the top. The whiny repetition of the theme of loss and longing is just too much to handle after four or five rotations.

This was the first Death Cab For Cutie album I had heard. I saw that they were co-headlining this summer with one of my favorite artists, Ben Kweller, so I decided to check them out. It now seems like a rather odd pairing if you ask me: Kweller is upbeat, enthusiastic, and optimistic, while Death Cab is downtrodden, complacent, boring, and as pessimistic as they come. The only common thread seems to be their great songwriting ability and their affinity for throwing in a few "bop bop"s during choruses.

While the songwriting on this album is solid, the entire thing reeks of complacency and laziness. Take for example the opening track, "The New Year". It starts off with generic crunching guitars that could bore one to tears. They do a great job of creating imagery through their lyrics ("So this is the New Year/And I don't feel any different/The clanking of crystal/Explosions off in the distance"), but the pacing is way off. Eventually the crunching guitars go away and it turns into something very good with a steady catchy guitar line and faster delivery, but it unexplicably reverts back into the dull, lifeless guitar chords that started off the song. Like most of this album, this one could've been really good, but somehow falls apart at the seams. Things don't get much better with "Lightness", essentially a Jimmy Eat World song in slow motion (complete with "wa-ho, wa-ho"s for good measure). Another song that is nice at first, but wears on the ears quickly.

Up next is "Title and Registration", the single great song on the album. This one's a lyrical masterpiece about how the smallest things can bring back painful memories you'd rather forget. While emotions run high on this one, you never feel like you're being overwhelmed. If nothing else, I'd highly recommend seeking this one out. "Expo '86" is a decent one, but the pessimism of the lyrics gets very, very old ("I am waiting for something to go wrong/I am waiting for familiar results"). "The Sound of Settling" is the most upbeat song on the album and is also one of the best. This is where the "ba ba"s come into play. The song is about being okay with complacency, which ironically enough is one of the things wrong with this album. This is another one worth checking out, but it's not a good indication of how the band sounds.

Many seem to disagree, but I find "Tiny Vessels" to be unbelievably dreadful. This is probably the main offender of over-the-top emotion on this album. Sure, the music is pretty, but the lyrics and vocals are whiny. Another song that I liked at first but that started sounding like nails on a chalkboard over time. "Transatlanticism", the title track, is, umm, I guess the centerpiece of this album. Of course, that has nothing to do with the quality, it's really just the fact that it's 7:55. It's actually a pretty good song, but there's no reason at all for it to be that long when the rest of the album averages only about 4 minutes. While I can listen to a 20 minute live version of the Dave Matthews Band's "Two Step" without finding a dull moment, I can't make it through three minutes of this before I'm ready for it to be over. Nice song, but it doesn't merit its length. "Passenger Seat" is another sleepy tune where the emotion overruneth. It reminds me of a very bad Ben Folds outtake. Pass on this one.

"Death of an Interior Decorator" is pretty upbeat and has a nice pop sound to it. The vocals even sound upbeat, the lyrics are again pretty depressing. It poses the question "Tell me why you have been so sad". My answer? I've been listening to this album. Next. "We Looked Like Giants" is quite an anomaly. The guitars and vocals are loud, there's basically no chorus, and the lyrics are about sex. It's not a bad song, but again, it really sounds nothing like Death Cab For Cutie. To close things out, we've got "A Lack of Color". It's got your stereotypical dorky lyrics of love ("And when I see you/I really see you upside down/But my brain knows better/It picks you up and turns you around") that were done much, much better on Weezer's "Only in Dreams". This is one of the better songs on the album, but again, the emotion is way too much to bear and it gets old quickly.

I really wanted to like this album. After I heard it the first time, I enjoyed the honesty of the lyrics and the pure, raw emotion. Naturally, I wanted to hear it more. However, the more and more I listened to it, it became more of a chore to make it through each song. I thought to myself "No, please, tell me this isn't happening", as it became increasingly painful to hear. It eventually got to the point where listening to it was like driving to work everyday: you're doing it, but you don't really think about it while you're doing it. After I'd heard the whole thing four or five times, I just couldn't put myself through it anymore.

I would recommend giving this album a listen or two. At the very least, check out "Title and Registration", one of the most well-written and enjoyable songs I've heard in quite awhile. But as far as buying it, I'd advise against it due to its very short shelf-life. Jack Black's label of "sad bastard music" would fit perfectly on this one.

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