Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Week 35: "Transatlanticism" by Death Cab for Cutie

In previous week I’ve written about two other songs by DCfC (Cath…, What Sarah Said) and though this will be the last song by the band I will write about, there are probably a dozen other Death Cab songs about which I could write short essays.

I have seen Death Cab for Cutie twice in concert. Each time they have ended with an exquisite version of “Transatlanticism,” the title-track of their breakthrough 2003 album. At 7:55, “Transatlanticism” is the longest song on the album.

Musically, the song begins with faint, almost inaudible percussion layered with a progression of piano chords with pauses between them. Over this minimalist soundscape, Ben Gibbard’s vocals are exposed. As the song develops, guitar chords are layered over the piano chords, the drums grow louder, and the song swells.

Lyrically, “Transatlanticism” explores themes of division, separation, and distance. With apparent references to the Genesis creation story and to Noah’s Ark, the song’s two verses describe birth of the Atlantic as the clouds open up, filling in holes and creating islands. As those islands continue to be swallowed up by the inundation, people take to their boats and find themselves at a distance that is too far to cross.

As the song swells musically, the lyrics become simple and repetitive. The latter half of the song consists of Gibbard repeating the line, “I need you so much closer.” The only variance is in a simple refrain, “So come on, come on.”

These words do little to capture the beauty of this song. Fortunately, there are several versions of it available on youtube: here, here, and here.