Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf take the stage at the Scene

    eath Cab for Cutie albums have been a staple in the collection of any emo or indie fan since the 1998 release of Something About Airplanes on Barsuk Records. With the additions of a few EPs, its phenomenally successful The Photo Album and its most recent record, Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie has every reason to expect an admiring and dedicated crowd on its current tour, which will be hitting San Diego on Nov. 16 at the Scene.

    Taking the stage with Mates of State, fellow label-mates Nada Surf and The Long Winters, Death Cab has a lot to celebrate on the current tour, promoting the new album that has won praise from sources as disparate as Playboy, Spin and Billboard.

    The four-piece band consists of Benjamin Gibbard (vocals), Christopher Walla (guitars), Nicholas Harmer (bass) and Jason McGerr (drums), and the performance at The Scene will feature openers Nada Surf. The show comes just two weeks before the venue closes its doors on Nov. 30. Death Cab’s tour will be wrapping up in Seattle at about the same time.

    Attendants to the concert won’t be disappointed. On the band’s fourth full-length, Gibbard’s lyrics are wistful metaphors that have won fans since his first album. Gibbard’s brilliance is based on his focus on life’s smallest details as grounds for lyrical metaphors.

    Keeping true to that kind of genius, the new album should manage to placate old fans and generate some new ones. Retaining the quiet simplicity of 2000’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes while continuing to hone the lush sound combinations found on 2001’s The Photo Album, Transatlanticism is a brilliant mix of the melancholy vibes and naked honesty that has come to mark Death Cab’s style. Older fans may feel the album has lost some of the thrilling lyrical surprises that were a constant presence on the previous release, but that criticism does a disservice to Transatlanticism’s balance of lyricism and musical sophistication. The new album isn’t as distanced from some of the previous releases as some critics would have listeners believe.

    The first song, “”This is the New Year,”” hearkens back to the early days of Something About Airplanes with its tone of subtle optimism shrouded in lilting guitars and gentle percussion. Inventive lyrics such as “”Your heart is a river that flows from your chest through every organ and your brain is the dam and I am the fish who can’t reach the core”” on “”Lightness”” demonstrates the kind of brilliance that people have come to expect from Gibbard. The addition of piano throughout the album serves as a wonderful base to the sometimes-haunting, sometimes-cheerful lyrics, providing a flexible range to match the shifting vocals.

    It’s hard not to attach the success of Gibbard’s side project, Postal Service, with Death Cab’s recent release. Some of the techno mastery that gives Postal Service such a definitive sound on its first full-length album, Give Up, seems to echo through certain tracks off Transatlanticism, like “”Sound of Settling”” or the title track, “”Transatlanticism.””

    But similarities to satellite bands aside, Transatlanticism is a great album in the best tradition of the indie-alternative genre, with fresh lyrics and musical confidence that are a welcome alternative to mainstream pop boredom.

    There’s a wonderful optimism amongst all the melancholy, a message that sadness and confusion don’t have to be overwhelming. That ability is probably what prompted Spin magazine to name Gibbard the “”poet laureate of the young and hopeful.”” More importantly, it’s probably what draws fans from all over the country to Death Cab’s music, both as a musical influence and as an encouraging soundtrack to those in search of eloquent honesty tempered by a hint of hope.

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