In retrospect, I think I missed an opportunity to explore an interesting idea over the last three challenges. Days 20 through 22 have been about songs you listen to when you’re angry, happy, or sad. My first inclination was to blog about angry songs on Day 20, a happy song on Day 21, and a sad song today. But perhaps a more rewarding tangent would have been to consider what kind of song I’d pick to calm me down on an angry day, or what song I’d use to likewise moderate my spirits on a happy or sad day. Does listening to sad music make someone sad, or does the sad music just help a sad person cope with being upset? Let’s shelve that idea for now; maybe I’ll come back to it in a future post.
Death Cab for Cutie is a good band with a terrible name. Wikipedia gives a reasonable explanation of where the name comes from (obscure 1950’s and 1960’s British pop culture), but it doesn’t really change the fact that it’s a stupid name. Having said that, this band does have a sound that is pretty unique in pop music. Their songs are quite often heart-on-sleeve melodramatic, which tends to really connect with some people and drive others away. I think people that like DCFC almost certainly gravitate towards the emotional honesty and the strong melodies. There is probably a healthy Boolean intersection of Death Cab fans and Coldplay fans; there are important differences between the bands but they do seem to share a lot of the same songwriting reference points.
My favourite song by DCFC is “Transatlanticism”, the title track from their 2003 album. Like a lot of my favourite songs, this one unfolds slowly in a widescreen, cinematic fashion. I love the tone of the guitar(s) and how it dances with the piano, percussion, and background sound effects. A lot of the time, sadness is about feeling displaced from someone you love (or perhaps disconnected from someone you think you love), about the physical and/or metaphorical distance that prevents you from being together. The melancholy is even deeper if you suspect the other half of your displaced pair doesn’t miss you the same way you miss them.
The words and music in “Transatlanticism” work together to paint a portrait of someone who stands face to face with an obstacle that blocks him from being with someone he loves. The metaphor could have just as easily been a mountain range or a barren desert or the vastness of space, but in this song Ben Gibbard uses bodies of water (an ocean, a lake, a moat) as the source of isolation. It’s plain that the protagonist of the song is despondent about being alone, and he seems to be struggling with letting go of a situation that has irrevocably changed.
I don’t know if misery loves company. But in the wee hours of the morning, when I’m lying awake on my sofa entranced by the flickering candles on my coffee table or watching snowflakes dance around the streetlights, it’s comforting to know that I can cue up an appropriate soundtrack.