If Death Cab For Cutie singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard had spent 2003 sticking purely to side projects, he'd still be having a great year. The Postal Service's Give Up, his warmly winning electronic collaboration with Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello, overcame its humble beginnings–the two men recorded its parts separately and grafted them together after mailing them back and forth–to actually live up to formidable influences like New Order. Home, a lower-profile solo EP split with American Analog Set's Andrew Kenny, highlighted Gibbard's distinct songwriting in a short burst of strong acoustic performances. That's not a bad year's work right there, but Gibbard went ahead and helped make Transatlanticism, the fourth full-length disc from his main band Death Cab For Cutie. A lush, impeccably produced, musically adventurous, emotionally resonant examination of the way relationships are both strengthened and damaged by distance, the album surpasses Gibbard's other career highpoints (Give Up, Death Cab For Cutie's terrific We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes), which is really saying something. "The New Year" sets the tone right away, lamenting the logistics of a long-distance romance ("I wish the world was flat like the old days / then I could travel just by folding the map"), while "Lightness" and "Passenger Seat" shift into a subtle, languid mode that contrasts nicely with more immediately ingratiating songs like "Expo '86" and "We Looked Like Giants." Transatlanticism's peaks are portioned out generously, even constantly, but Death Cab For Cutie never sets the bar higher than during the disc's powerhouse midsection, in which the two perfectly propulsive minutes of "The Sound Of Settling" make way for the heartbreaking melancholy of "Tiny Vessels" and the title track, which may be the best song Gibbard has ever written. Assuredly building momentum as it goes, "Transatlanticism" never falters during its eight captivating minutes, building to a crashing climax while highlighting Gibbard's repetition of the album's six most important words: "I need you so much closer." As Death Cab For Cutie reaches the height of both its creative powers and Gibbard's prolificacy, here's hoping their efforts are as richly rewarded as their fans have been this year.