I Need You So Much Closer: Transaltanticism, an appreciation

<DCFC Transaltanticism>

Death Cab for Cutie “Transaltantism” (2003, Barsuk Records)

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.

10 Years Later: The Long Winters’ When I Pretend to Fall

I received a email from Barsuk Records about their 15th anniversary. They announced a bunch of special shows at landmark venues around Seattle featuring some of their landmark bands, including Nada Surf, Mates of State, David Bazan, Rocky Votolato, The Long Winters, and Death Cab for Cutie.

As the email pointed out, The Long Winters’ When I Pretend to Fall is 10 years old. This got me thinking about how excellent this album is. 

Yes, this album came out in 2003 but I was not aware of it until a few years later. As a someone who listed to a lot of pop-punk in those days, I was constantly yearning for something a little more adult as I completed my first years of college. I wanted smart, fun and emotionally-aware music to soundtrack my walks to class and study sessions. 

When I first heard this album something just clicked. It has a lot of those pop-punk sensibilities I loved but took the aesthetic a bit further.  As with a lot of Seattle indie-rock, The Long Winters are a smart band with smart lyrics. Their songs are built around common emotions and experiences.  Their albums touch upon alienation, love, and introspection. John Roderick is consistently one of the funniest men in indie-rock (along with Jon Wurster, of course) and as a result, here is something so enchanting about the songwriting method and instrument style. 

The album begins in a typical way.  “Blue Diamonds” is a song where the slow drums and vocals rein supreme. As the song continues, more elements enter the song (including back-up vocals and some other brass instrument).  

There is that accessibility built into the songs, like on “Shapes,”  Roderick sings “Secrets/ Secrets/ Damn your secrets!”  “Cinnamon” explores being in-love and is followed up “Bride and Bridle,” which seems to be about being strapped down and feeling anxious.  

There is an acoustic song about being careless and free (“It’ll Be a Breeze”), followed by “Stupid,” a song about being wrapped up in another and taking chances. 

(I just realized Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger does back-up vocals on this track! Note: he is a former member of TLW, with other well-knowns

“The Sound of Coming Down” is a sad song about (relationship?) decline. The instrumentation and harmonies slowly draw you into acceptance; sometimes things deteriorate and you need to accept it and move on.

The Long Winters use energetic harmonies.  This is especially apparent in “New Girl” where “No You are!” is repeated in the background of song.  It feels like a sing-along that I would love to be part of. 

“Prom Night at Hater High” is a delightful jaunt full of parody that seems to be about going back to your hometown to find that you don’t understand anyone anymore.  Who hasn’t felt alienation when being in the presence of hometown heroes? He seems like a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. In an increasingly humorless world, this attitude is quite refreshing.  My favorite part was always: “So won’t you quit talking down to your girlfriend/ Oh, I see, you’re not fighting, you’re flirting/ Well I hope it’s exciting.” One cannot listen to this without imaging Roderick’s gap-teethed smirk. 
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This album was followed by Ultimatum EP and Putting the Days to Bed, an LP that seemed like an attempt at mainstream. The former featured two version of “Ultimatum” including a finger-picking version that is great. The latter had some great tracks, including a song that got played on some NPR called “Fire Island, AK” and one of the catchiest opening tracks ever (“Pushover”). 

I always feel like this band doesn’t get the recognition that they deserve. Maybe it has to do with the fact that The Long Winters haven’t released an album since 2006 (even though Roderick claims one is coming soon-ish).  

If you are a fan of smart indie-rock, I’d suggest checking out this band.  The themes continue to resonate and with each listen, I feel refreshed and eager for some new material.  

But if there isn’t new material, I am perfectly happy with these three albums and one EP that have held up for 10 years and will probably hold up for at least 10 more. 

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Here is a video from 2012, where John Roderick preforms “Prom Night at Hater High” at the Showbox.  It has a little bit of his signature banter and acoustic guitar picking.  

Check out Roderick On the Line, a weekly comedic podcast featuring Roderick and Merlin Mann talking about stuff on the phone. 

He also has a very funny twitter (@JohnRoderick), where he shares musings about life and often converses with his friends (who happen to be John Hodgman and others)

Earlier this year, he wrote a piece for Seattle Daily entitled Punk Rock is Bullshit.

Does It Hold Up?: The Format’s Intervention and Lullabies (2003)

From TV to radio, people are raving about this band called fun.  Moms, grandmas, tweens, Lena Dunham, everyone seems to be talking about this band. That “We are Young” song is inescapable. My Facebook Newsfeed blew up during their two night stint at Hudson River Park (where they were supported by Tegan & Sara, who I adore).
(Note: I happen to enjoy Aim and Ignite. I have not heard this latest album.)
Every time I hear a fun. song I think of The Format – a little band from the early 2000s fronted by Nate Ruess (currently lead singer of fun.).  In 2003, Ruess and Sam Means released Intervention and Lullabies.  I fell in love with this album during 2004’s Skate and Surf Fest, in Asbury Park, NJ.  I remember a diminutive Ruess singing without his shoes on, while Means backed him out on acoustic guitar. It was very memorable as a 17 year old.
So I thought in honor of fun’s recent success, I’d do a re-listen of Interventions and Lullabies and share my thoughts.
Here we go! Time to press play! 
Ok. This is already 10x better than “We are Young.” The thing I always liked about The Format was their album to fuse bouncy melodies with largely depressing song lyrics. The melodies, harmonies, and light drum beats are coupled with lyrics about alienation, friendship, and family. Its bitter without being cynical.
Lyrics like “When I’m with you/ there’s no point in breathing” (from “Tie the Rope”) sum-up the “I love you” and then “I hate you” sentiment (Only now am I reminded of that “When I’m with you/ I feel like I could die/ and that would be all right” lyric from 3EB’s “Semi-Charmed Life”).
Every song is about the tension of relationships (romantic, friendship, family). “Tune Out” seems to be about problem avoidance. “A Mess to be Made” was always a stand-out track.  It really highlights the struggles of being a youth who cannot seem to do anything right. It has tint of banjo twang, a very popular device these days.
“On Your Porch” is an epicly-slow and heartbreaking song about family struggles and your past. It starts out quiet, like an Iron & Wine song, and then builds. Vocally, Ruess starts out alone and then is joined by Means; Means’ guitar is the common thread. It still kills me.
As this song ends, its hard not to feel like an emotional wreck.  But then, joy comes back for “Sore Thumb,” another bouncy song about failed relationships.
Why is Ruess so angry!   Why has every girl (or friend) been a total disappointment! I feel like a teenage fan-girl who just wants answers!
Conclusion: This album absolutely holds up.  There are many different types of songs on the album and each of them seamlessly blend into one another. There are slow ballads (“On Your Porch” and “A Save Situation”) and clap-along singles (“The First Single” and “Wait Wait Wait”).  All 12 songs are pretty great.  Many albums of the 2000s featured those in-between chorus breakdowns.  This album is no different. The lyrical themes still resonate.
Maybe not much has changed since 2002. And maybe I’m OK with that.

10 Years Later: Happy Anniversary, Deja Entendu!

Brand New’s Deja Entendu came out 10 years ago today.  This album continues to be one of my favorite. It had a darkness not seen in Your Favorite Weapon.   All 10 tracks were memorable. I loved how Jesse Lacey channeled Morissey.  There were layers to the lyrics and the melodies. All of the themes of leaving home and yearning for something more really resonated with me.  

They took the dual vocals to  the next  level.  It was beyond pop-punk. It was grown-up.

Unfortunately, this was also the last Brand New album that I really loved. But it will always be one of my favorites.

And how can you not love “Play Crack the Sky”?