"So this is the new year," Ben Gibbard wails at the start of Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie's subtle and near-flawless new album. "And I don't feel any different." We should all be thankful for his emotional slump; Death Cab is one of the very few bands in recent memory who've managed to consistently release album after album of entirely good material.
Not that on Transatlanticism they've simply recycled their sound. Somehow, in fact, they've managed to both expand and improve on it, without sacrificing any of the gloomy pop hooks or poignant storytelling that makes a Death Cab experience both eerily ancient and timeless, all at once.
A lot of this magic, of course, is owed to Gibbard's angelic voice -- is he an adolescent or an age-old sage? -- but there's simply something unexplainable about a band that can transform your state of mind with any given tune, and before finishing the first chorus, at that.
Even the production on Transatlanticism is worthy of note. Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla is something of an old hand when it comes to engineering indie pop, and on this album he manages to bring a sense of silent urgency to every bridge and barre chord -- probably not an easy feat on yet another emo album about (yawn) love and loss. To put it in metaphorical terms, Transatlanticism is almost cinematic, its lyric sheet a virtual catalog of heart-tugging sentiment. Don't expect weepy-eyed pop to come much grander than this.