Being a teenager was tough. A little chubby and a little awkward, I desperately wanted to be part of something. Sure, there were friends, pool halls, and school clubs, but I wanted more. I wanted to belong. I eventually found music as a way to connect with others. For hours, I talked about my favorite bands to anyone who would listen. I joined message boards and MySpace and would search for all the latest news. I went to shows and talked to other fans. I wore my band t-shirts with pride. My messenger bag was decorated with small-round pins, likely purchased at Hot Topic or Warped Tour. Armed with a discman, I’d stroll through the high school halls, listening beloved songs by Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, The Starting Line, Bright Eyes, and other bands long forgotten.
And then there was Death Cab for Cutie. The year was 2003, I was 17, and they were my favorite band. Transaltanticism was my favorite album.
This band (and specifically that album) captured what it was like be an introspective youth, eager to move into adulthood but unsure how to act or what to say.
As I made the decision to leave home and go to college out of state, I was suddenly without my safety net of childhood friends. I found solace in these lyrics and in this band.
Every New Years Eve, I’d copy the lyrics to the album’s opening track, “The New Year,” into a AIM Away Message (or later, Facebook Status) with the hopes that the upcoming year might be different. More often than not, it wasn’t. All the inspirational New Year’s resolutions was lost on my over-thinking, over-analyzing teenage (and early 20s) mind.
There was “The Sound of Settling.” How could a song about low expectations be so upbeat?! Hopeful and hopeless, I’d write lyrics like “I’ll sit and wonder/ of every love that could’ve been/ if I’d only thought of something charming to say,” on my binders and notebooks, all the while looking for that first love.
“Passenger Seat” made me yearn for an experience: the open-road car trip with windows down and not a care in the world. “I strain my eyes/ and try to tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites…/Do they collide?/I ask and you smile.” I wanted that feeling.
In “A Lack of Color,” there was quiet elegance. With power and strength, the lyrics spoke to sadness of a breakup. “I’m reaching for the phone to call at 7:03 and on your machine/ I slur a plea for you to come home./ But I know it’s too late, and I should have given you a reason to stay.” Sometimes even one’s most sincere effort is not enough to fix everything.
“We Looked Like Giants” was an example of how Death Cab could rock. But the song explored the theme of thinking that you love someone more than anyone else ever will. It is a secretive love; it is the kind of love you skip classes for.
In “Tiny Vessels,” an nod to hickeys, Gibbard sings of desiring more. “So one last touch and then you’ll go/ And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more/ But it was vile, and it was cheap/ And you are beautiful, but you don’t mean a thing to me.” Whether or not one may want to admit it, this type of experience is typical of the college culture. Cheap booze and house parties often lead to more than one tawdry encounter (and accidental hickey).
Overall, it is a lyrics-heavy album that makes you feel so many things. There are themes of regret, disappointment, change, stagnation, meaningful relationships, and missed connections.
It’s 11 songs proclaiming “You’re not alone. I’ve felt the same way. You’ll be OK.”
Now at age 27, I still listen to this album. I think back on feeling unsure of myself. I think back on all of the false starts and wasted opportunities. The album captures that fine line between hope and hopelessness. In some songs, love is experienced while in other songs, love is fleeting. Either way, love is something to desire.
Maybe things have changed. Maybe things stayed the same. But all I know is that without this album, I might just be another inarticulate mess, too reflective for my own good.
Either way, I’ve still “got a hunger, twisting my stomach into knots”
Bah baaaah..bah baaaah.
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Death Cab For Cutie’s Transaltanticism came out 10 years ago.
Barsuk Records recently resissued the album on vinyl.
For more information, click here.