It’s 2023 and Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism turns 20 this year. In many ways that blows my mind! So today, I’m going to revisit the album, starting with taking a look at the vinyl versions released in it’s first 20 years, then unboxing my copy, which is the 10th Anniversary Pressing from 2013, and finally diving into the music itself and talking a little about some of the songs.
Assorted Vinyl Versions
Transatlanticism was originally released in 2003. In the US, the record was dually released on Barsuk Records and Sonic Boom Records. That year it was also released in Germany on Grand Hotel Van Cleef.
My copy, as I noted, is the 10th anniversary 2013 pressing. It’s a reissue of the original pressing from 2003, meaning there may be some alterations to the packaging, but the music is pulled from the same masters. This pressing came on 180 gram vinyl with a white hype sticker. Sure enough, where the original was split between Barsuk and Sonic Boom, the 2013 is just on Barsuk and has the catalog number Bark 32 LP whereas the original was just Bark 32.
The Bark 32 LP catalog number would be carried forward on the only other two pressings (as of January 2023), which oddly enough also include hype stickers calling out the 10th Anniversary, despite Discogs noting them to be released in 2015 and 2022. These two pressings feature a hype sticker matching my official 10th Anniversary pressing, but on a clear sticker as opposed to a white one. The two also differ from it and each other through the runout codes in their dead wax.
All three come with a 12 page booklet insert that includes lyrics, credits, and artwork.
But first, to wrap this section on the various versions of Transatlanticism on vinyl, I’ll note that the 10th anniversary also included the digital release of the album’s demos. Barsuk, if you’re reading, I’d love to see a copy of this pressed to vinyl!
In the meantime, if you want to hear those, you can find them on streaming platforms like Spotify. I’ve embedded “Title And Registration (Demo)” below; I think you’ll agree that this should get a physical release!
Who knows. Maybe one is in the works for release later this year given the 20 year milestone. We can only hope!
Unboxing Transatlanticism’s 10th Anniversary Vinyl Pressing
Alright, on to the unboxing of my 10th Anniversary pressing. My video coverage does deeper into the unboxing, so check that out below. Overall, I love the artsy insert and this is a great pressing! In fact, as of the publishing of this blog post, it rounds out the top 10 in my all-time record spins list.
20th Anniversary Transatlanticism Album Review
Upon its release in 2003, I remember Transatlanticism being so different from their other releases. It was more cerebral than what came before, more mature, the music more spacial and expansive. And that extended beyond the lengthy, near 8-minute title track.
The New Year
Transatlanticism opens with The New Year, which is a top 3 for me of songs about the new year. It’s one I love revisiting each January.
“So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different,” sings frontman Ben Gibbard; it’s so symbolic of the changing of the year, when we tend to see the moment as a turning of the page, a fresh start, etc. Yet, when it comes down to it, it’s just really another day.
I remember Expo 86. Essentially, it was the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication. Held in Vancouver, BC, my family drove up to Canada from the other Vancouver, down across the river from Portland, OR.
I was 5 or 6, and while most memories from the event have eluded me all these years later, the one thing that stands out in my mind is the Concrete Highway. It’s pretty fascinating to read about. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
The Highway 86 art installation was a 217-metre long absurdist highway created for Expo 86 by James Wines and SITE.
It’s tragic that the installation, which included 200 vehicles cast in solid metal, didn’t last beyond the life of the fair. Wines attempted to raise money to save them, but they were ultimately sold off for a quite low sum of money which leads me to believe they were scrapped.
Death Cab’s “Expo 86” will always be nostalgic for me for the memories I have of the Concrete Highway. While nowhere near the best song on Transatlanticism, it’ll always be special to me.
James Wines had a similar piece of art (also no longer around) called the Ghost Parking Lot. Here’s the opening words to an article on that piece:
Ghost Parking Lot was one of the eeriest, most sinister and most striking pieces of 20th-century land art. The lumpy shapes of automobiles were discernible beneath a gloopy blanket of grey-black asphalt, a landscape of parking – at a shopping mall in Hamden, Connecticut – in which the cars and the surface built for them melded into one.Apollo Magazine (Feb 5, 2020)
The title track is probably the most aurally and audibly stunning track Death Cab For Cutie had produced to date, and it remains among my favorites from the band’s now 25+ year career. Technically, Transatlanticism is a concept album that explores long-distance relationships, and to no surprise the title track is where that thematic element stands out most.
Listening to the song and its successor “Passenger Seat”, there’s a sparseness and minimalist element to what you’ll hear on the album, despite moments where things build tremendously, pushing the music forward and producing a monumental and heartfelt sound.
We Looked Like Giants
“We Looked Like Giants” is my favorite track off Transatlanticism. It’s hard driving, has memorable melodies, features catchy and heartfelt lyrics, and is packed with great guitar hooks.
Up until 2020, I spent 12 years living just south of the Pacific Northwest college town of Bellingham, WA where Death Cab originated from, and the talk of mountain passes, the guitar riffs … they all scream NW Washington.
Death Cab for Cutie came onto my radar shortly after the release of We Have the Facts And We’re Voting Yes. Released in March of 2000, my friend Pat introduced me to it, the band’s 1998 album Something About Airplanes, and You Can Play These Songs with Chords from 1997. I became a quick fan and still love those albums, as well as The Photo Album from 2001.
But Transatlanticism, I feel, has stood the test of time more than any other release Death Cab For Cutie has given us. Not only is it one of the best albums from Death Cab, if not THE best, it’s also a solid top 5 release from 2003, at least for me. I’m not sure I’ve captured its greatness in the words above; it’s one you need to hear for yourself to appreciate to its fullest.
Where does Transatlanticism fall for you in your best albums by Death Cab list? Let me know in the comments below.
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