Death Cab for a Cutie – “Transatlanticism”

“Transatlanticism”, the title, suggests a traveling of a vast, oceanic distance—much like Christopher Columbus’s long and treacherous transatlantic voyage to the Americas. Despite the speaker’s insistence that the distance is a body of water, the Atlantic is symbolic to a chasm which separates one from his aspirations or loved ones. Introduced with a steadfast train crossing tracks faintly audible in the background, “Transatlanticism” builds from a few flickers of piano keys to battering chants of “come on”. Such a crescendo was aided by tension building constant drum beats, spirit lifting symphonic vocal altos, and noisy electric guitar strums that surround the two. All three lead up to a release. Such ascension is paralleled in the structure of the song as well. Prefaced with a genesis of the Atlantic, the song explores the reason for frustration before ending with repetition of exasperating “come on”.

“The Atlantic was born today, and I’ll tell you how”, he says—explicitly stating his intention of explaining how a barrier was created. “The clouds above opened up” and released the sea bit by bit in teary, incremental rain drops. These droplets accumulated and filled the holes on the ground until an “ocean” and “islands” were formed. Although most were “overjoyed” by this phenomenon and sought out recreation on “boats”, the speaker did not share such an inclination. Instead of seeing it like a “lake”, he saw it as a “moat”—a barrier keeping him separate. Refraining from specificity, the song does not indulge the audience in what it is exactly that the speaker is yearning for. This leads one to question not only what the speaker is separated from but also what the divisive Atlantic represents. Is it a rift between two people like the second-person pronouns suggest? Or is it a divide between a dream and the requisites for realization? Or is it a gap between oneself and an approaching milestone? Keeping such questions unanswered is instrumental to the universality of “Transatlanticism”. Its vagueness allows it to fit in a multitude of life experiences.

Before getting frustrated, the speaker explains his grievance. “Flatlands” he used to be able to traverse with rhythmic “footsteps” have been “silenced” forever, and rowing the distance is “quite simply too far”. Despite the fact that the distance remains constant through out, the new found obstacle (the Atlantic) discourages him by making the distance seem farther than “ever before”. Afterwards, he repeatedly chants that he needs what he wants “so much closer” as if he was praying for it come contiguously. In conjunction with the three hopeful guitar notes, his achings are brought to the surface and manifest themselves into frustrated fits of “come on”.

Hindrance and hardship is inevitable. Obstacles, whether or not they present themselves as oceanic dispositions, will be distributed regardless of age, gender, or creed. Throwing a tantrum is no resolution, it is a dissolution. If there is something worth wanting so dearly, how worthwhile is it if it is not worth persevering for?

-Yogi P


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