Allison and Her Music #1 (The glove compartment is innacurately named and everybody knows it)
As a side project in 1997, Ben Gibbard created a demo entitled “You Can Play These Songs With Chords.” The tape did very well so he recruited the artists who helped him create it and formed Death Cab for Cutie in Bellingham, Washington. They released a few albums on Barsuk Records. Because of previous success with Barsuk when it came to sign with Atlantic Records, Death Cab was able to retain a lot of creative license. Death Cab is one of my friends favorite bands. When I asked him if I could “borrow” his albums he said, “Allison, if it were any other band I’d let you ‘borrow’ the CDs. You need to support Death Cab.” I purchased Plans and was so impressed with it that I bought Transatlanticism.
I feel Ben and the boys left two tracks on Transatlanticism unfinished. This is coming from a person that let Plans define her mid-decade that was the terrible 00s. Plans was a highly produced and very studio but there was still genuine authenticity to what the band was saying. The unfinished tracks are Expo ’86 and Death of an Interior Decorator. Expo ’86 is an okay song but it’s a long four minutes to get to The Sound of Settling. Death of an Interior Decorator is written in waltz time which I usually love because I imagine myself dancing with a tall, handsome fellow but this song makes me sigh. I don’t think the meter was used to its full advantage.
If done incorrectly a song written about a breakup or loneliness can sound like whining. Ben Gibbard writes lyrics very carefully, focusing on events rather than people so you have a more complete understanding of why he feels how he feels. It’s not just the person; it’s the person and the situation. Title and Registration does this. He gets pulled over but instead of finding what he needs in the glove compartment he finds “souvenirs of better times.” These remembrances flash his last memory of her. Now, doesn’t that suck? She left him and he’s getting a ticket.
The callous disregard of Tiny Vessels rips my heart out every time. The opening lines are “This is the moment that you know that you told her that you love her but you don’t.” He describes the beauty of the southern California sun on her skin and hair and how beautiful the environment is but has no use for her, at all. He used her as a summer girlfriend. He admits it by calling his actions “vile and cheap.” These summer relationships are a theme in Gibbard’s writing. Two tracks from Plans, Summer Skin and Someday You Will Be Loved, fit this mold.
Thematically the songs create a chiasmus for the album. Death Cab start and finish their albums with the same audio cues which helps this effect. The second track on Transatlanticism, Lightness, seduces you into the album. He doesn’t want to get caught looking at a tear in his girlfriend’s favorite dress. The penultimate song, We Looked Like Giants, is the most sensual on the album. I imagine a University of Utah man whose girl is going to Utah State. He can’t stand to be away from her so he drives two hours and up Sardine Canyon just to share an intimate moment with her in a Honda Civic.
My love for Death Cab has grown in the last five years. Gibbard’s raw emotion displayed in his music is beautiful. He sings so wonderfully, and right in my range, that it’s very hard to pull myself away from any Death Cab record. He portrays such feeling it makes me wonder how he could gain all this experience. Who would break up with a singer/songwriter/guitar player? I have no idea but if you do you have songs like A Lack of Color written about you. On the flip side if you stay with a singer/songwriter/guitar player you have songs like Passenger Seat. Personally, I’d want to be the muse for Passenger Seat.