Transatlanticism is my favorite album of all time. Death Cab For Cutie’s fourth album, released fifteen years ago today, is the band’s second concept album. Transatlanticism centers itself around long-distance love, with both its strengths and downfalls. Ben Gibbard, the band’s soft-sung lead vocalist, lyricist, and guitarist, penned the term “transatlanticism” to express the unfathomable emotional space between two young lovers. The distance Gibbard discusses feels impenetrable. Transatlanticism sees Death Cab For Cutie experimenting with soft-loud dynamics (“Transatlanticism”, “We Looked Like Giants”), perfecting the gorgeous quiet track (“Lightness”, “A Lack of Color”), and witnesses them pushing themselves to go all-out and produce the flawless pop song (“The Sound Of Settling”). Completing all of this is the efforts of guitarist, co-writer and producer Chris Walla. Walla’s lo-fi production is perfect for Transatlanticism. Fifteen years later, and Transatlanticism still sounds incredibly rich and indulgent, yet also warm and intimate.
In writing this album, we had this big blowout with Chris in October of 2001 and we got home from that tour and realized we needed a break. We needed to take time and do some other stuff, and we did. I had a lot of time to write. I know for a fact I will never have a year again like 2003. The Postal Service record came out, Transatlanticism came out. These two records will be on my tombstone, and I’m totally fine with that. I’ve never had a more creatively inspired year, and the proof is in the pudding.
I look back at that period of writing and it was really a much more personal, confessional period, even in relation to the albums on either side of it. To put it in context, we had made Transatlanticism, The O.C. happened, the band’s profile kind of grew exponentially very quickly, and then we signed to a major label. That process and that period of change and growth, having a whole new group of new people we were putting records out with at Atlantic Records versus the four people that worked at Barsuk, it was a stressful time. We signed to Atlantic because we wanted to reach more people. We worked harder than we’d ever worked before, we toured more than we’d ever toured before, we were doing so much press, the profile of the band had just really blown up.
We’ve been demoing some songs here and there with Dave [Depper] and Zack [Rae], who are gonna be a part of this next record, people who are members of the band now. I feel like they know our band better than we do, because they were outside of it for so long. Their aesthetic take on the material is so valuable because they were fans of the band before they were in the band, so they could say like, “I want what you think you’re doing with this song, but you’re not pulling it off.”