The Album Hasn’t Changed, But I Have: Transatlanticism Ten Years Later
When I downloaded Translatlanticism in 2003 I was fifteen, and I did it off Limewire, which was extremely illegal. But I was a teenager and experimenting with danger, and I didn’t have a debit card yet.
I spent all of my sophomore year of high school listening to the album. I went and saw Death Cab for Cutie play with my friend Kaitlin when they stopped in Denver for two nights. I got the big black X’s slapped on my hands, warning bartenders that my still-growing 5’9 frame was not yet legally able to handle alcohol. I ordered soda water with lime and pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my hands so I could feel older.
That’s what this album did for me- it made me want to be older. I listened to it and felt the brutality of “Tiny Vessels” and the flickering optimism in the ashes of “Expo ’86.” I heard “Title and Registration” and felt a suddenly adult ache deep in my chest, the same way that “We Looked Like Giants” made me think that making out with someone in a car could be teased out into a narrative that spoke to the truest parts of me.
I wanted to be older when I listened to Transatlanticism because the themes are ageless, but the shadowy corners in those songs can only be explored when you’re no longer afraid of the dark. I could see them when I was fifteen, but didn’t know how to cook my own dinner, much less reach into the shifting gray areas and pull out reality.
I remember the first time I listened to the titular track after a little break and heard it as though brand new. I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, and moody. My sadsack self was tucked into Helena, Montana, and I had been steeped in all the ‘90s indie rock I could handle. I was so mad that I was too young to be a part of the ‘90s. It stung that when Pavement was playing shows I was convinced Barney the purple dinosaur was the greatest vocalist of our time.
One cold Montana day I was going through my iPod, and ran across this album. As my finger hovered over it, I realized it was an album from my time. An album that I had taken with me from home. And then I listened to “Transatlanticism” and sat in the shadowy corners, and felt at home in my generation. I made myself Easy Mac that night and listened to the whole album. I felt grown up, and very young, and cracked open by songs that had carried me this far.
Ten years later, I have legally purchased Transatlanticism. I no longer use Limewire, because I’m moral and also so slow with the downloads. I make good dinners for myself, and my mom very rarely has to help.
But it’s almost five in the morning, and I have been awake all night in my grown up apartment with this album on, feeling at home in noise. Feeling just like the fifteen year old with the white wicker headboard, on the edge of understanding the idea of faltering joy, the vastness inside heartbreak, and the unexpected and wild friendship of music. How the album hasn’t changed, but I have. Feeling like a grown up who has understood those things. Feeling grateful that I had this album to bring with me.
Death Cab for Cutie will be playing the entirety of Transatlanticism this Sunday at Bumbershoot.