Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

Since first learning of, and subsequently hearing Bellingham, Washington-based Death Cab for Cutie's music, I had written them off as yet another cheesy, adolescent indie-rock band pushing out albums full of teenage angst, drinking, drugs and sex to be bought by teenage girls and affeminate teenage boys sitting alone, depressed, in dark rooms covered with magazine cut-outs. My impression was deeply changed in 2004. I first heard the new Death Cab at the end of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, after arriving at the end of their set to see, I believe, Cursive. I was greeted with the end of one song, and their closer, the title track to this album, "Transatlanticism." As their frontman sat in front of the piano, belting out "I need you so much closer," the crowd swayed, couples held each other, and the hot swelter was heavy with emotion. I was deeply impresssed. After downloading several other songs from the album and determining that I did indeed like it, I went out and bought it and was not disappointed. One thing that made me know that this was a really great album was that the best track was in no way the first, and, in fact, it's very difficult to determine what the best track on this album really is, because there are so many good ones. I already mentioned that I loved, and I still love, the title track, and the middle of the album is by far makes the strongest case. "Transatlanticism" is preceded by the somber, reflective, but not corny, "Tiny Vessels." Following the couples' favorite, "Transatlanticism" is my favorite track, "Passenger Seat": a short, slow piano-based reflection on the writer's experience as a child in the middle of a divorce striving above his young age to help make things right. The album then quickly moves to the much more upbeat "Death of an Interior Decorator" yet manages to keep its own composure despite the massive change in dynamics and volume. This track is also one of my favorites on the album. The story in the lyrics is humorous, the music is good, and the bridge just gives you goosebumps, with its tingly, secondary guitar melody entering on the second time, leading the song into a slow, but progressive ending. All of this is not to say that the best of the album is concentrated in the center, though. The opener, "The New Year" is a perfect opener: powerful, stunning, anticipated, while the closer, "A Lack of Color" is a perfect closer. "A Lack of Color" presents an acoustic, guitar- and vocals-only reprise to the rest of the album, which, in most songs, relies on the piano to carry the melody.
This is definitely a must-have of 2004, and I would greatly recommend this to anyone who enjoys good rock music in general. The album is well-written and well-produced and represents a great step in the maturity of this band.

Stereolab - Margerine Eclipse

I'm always curious to ask those who like Stereolab what their favorite album is. Most either reference 1998's "Emperor Tomato Ketchup" or 1999's "Dots and Loops," the latter of which was my favorite 'lab album until I heard this one. I was first introduced to "Margerine Eclipse" on KXCI while driving to a hiking trail one morning. They played the opening track, "Vonal Declosion," by far the most powerful songs on the album and the best choice for the album's opener. After being somewhat disappointed with 2001's "Sound Dust," I was just happy to hear at least one good song from the group's new effort, especially after the tragic death of their backup singer and keyboardist, Mary Hanson. With this event, "Margerine Eclipse" had a bit of a shadow hanging over it with many fans. Stereolab had a difficult task ahead of them to build an album to satisfy die-hard 'lab fans without Mary's always-present backing vocals. The best thing about this album is that this huge jolt to the group does not affect their sound. At the Coachella Music and Arts Festival of 2004, the highlight for me was seeing Stereolab. I braved the hot, sticky tent, stinking like a farm from the nearby toilets and general over-population, pushed my way to the front, and sweated to a great perfomance by the group. Unfortunately, the loss of Mary does affect their live show, although this is definitely to be expected, as although Letitia can fulfill both duties in the studio, and does so very well, it's impossible for her to harmonize with herself. Despite this loss, is still loved by its fans, me included, of course. At the show, as Letitia came on stage, she was greeted by an immediate applause and the subsequent yell of "We love you, Letitia!" My favorite track on this album, by far, is "Margerine Melodie." A very funky, soothing and anti-capitalist track sung in English, this song is one of the better Stereolab tracks that I've heard in terms of its orchestration, arrangement and melody. A slew of sudden but smooth changes just re-enforce that Stereolab is a group well-equipped and well-prepared to continue along with their musical journey into obscurity.

Piebald - All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time

I'm often surprised to find people west of the Mississippi who have even heard of this group, but Piebald is really one of the best emo bands out there today. They're genuinely talented, write great songs, put on a great show, and have never, for one moment, taken themselves seriously. After I purchased the somewhat disappointing but still very good and very Piebald follow-up to "If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtians for Us All," "We Are the Only Friends That We Have," I half expected the band to break up. Although there were some great tracks on that album, there were also some senseless ones which seemed thrown together at the last minute in the studio in order to fill time. Piebald's latest release doesn't seem to follow that. I first heard most of the songs when they surprisingly showed up at Club Congress here in Tucson for a Wednesday night show, along with The Jealous Sound. Unfortunately, much of the crowd left after the openers, who were very good, and Piebald was left with a roughly half-full room with a few people hanging around at the back drinking. Travis, the singer, also made it clear initially that their piano was again broken, so they would not be playing several songs from the new album. One that they did play, and which I think is the album's best offering, was "The Benefits of Ice Cream," a classic Piebald social commentary layered with humorous toppings and hot love sauce. Towards the end of the show though, they began to take requests. I yelled for "Fat and Skinny Asses" (my favorite Piebald song) many times, and finally got the response "We didn't practice that." They all seemed a bit pissed off that no one requested new songs, but it's to be expected when your band produces a really great album, and you're left to live up to its expectations.