Belated platitudes part two
I know, I know, these are awful long; no wonder the Voice didn't print'em. That's what blogs are for, right? Running at the mouth - or at least the fingertips.
Death Cab for Cutie's Peter Pan Complex
Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism, the Seattle bandís fourth album and first new work since 9/11, sees the band facing the uncomfortable prospect of growing up Ė and in doing so, it presents indie rock's crisis of adulthood. It's a generational album, tailormade for a movement of self-styled "kids" who, facing a world that seems increasingly complex and increasingly disappointing, retreat into the bubble of Livejournals and weathered mixtapes.
The whole idea of Transatlanticism is about bridging worlds -- between two people, of course, in the long-distance weepiness that comes so easily to singer Benjamin Gibbard (letís not forget that his side project, the Postal Service, takes its raison díetre from distance and the epistolary tradition), but also across the yawning gulf between adolescence and adulthood (despite the fact that Gibbard Ė like plenty of his fans Ė is well into his 30s). And even, why not, between "the scene" and the world outside. But at the same time, this is an isolationist album, a rejection of nation-building in favor of drawing the wagons around oneís community, oneís emotions, oneself.
What's striking about Transatlanticism is that from the opening song, Death Cab is clearly on the retreat. "So this is the new year/ and I donít feel any different," sings Gibbard in the albumís very first line. "The clanking of crystal/ and explosions off in the distance" is the fragment that follows, as though the strange new world facing him trumped grammar itself. Of course it does: while the indie kids were batting lashes and taking roadtrips, the world came crashing back to earth, and Death Cab -- kingpins of the indie scene -- are stuck struggling to assume leadership as unexpectedly as hapless George was.
But if "The New Year" is the anthem the indie kids were waiting for (ever since The Strokes cut "NYC Cops" off their album in the wake of 9/11), the rest of the album sees Gibbard struggling with the weight of nostalgia. Just as on the wonderful Postal Service album, we're given lovely, ephemeral moments from late-night drives and bedroom conversations, the impossible-to-recover stuff of youth, preserved as beautifully, and spookily, as extinct mammals in the Museum of Natural History. But the museum's about to close and Gibbard knows it. "Our youth is fleeting, old age is just around the corner," he sings; "This is the sound of settling."