Album Review: Death Cab For Cutie – Codes And Keys

After fifteen years of great music, indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie should already have exhausted all of their creative talent and attempts at new ideas, but that’s not the case here; their seventh studio album Codes And Keys is nothing but amazing – amazingly different that is. Going in a different direction, the album isn’t guitar based, but rather has a lot more focus on keyboards, synthesizers, and how the lyrics fit the song as a whole. While Codes And Keys is definitely an experimental album, straying away from their iconic guitar-centric albums, it doesn’t disappoint.

The Washington state band, composed of Ben Gibbard (lead vocals), Nicholas Harmer (bass), Jason McGerr (drums), and Chris Walla (keyboard and guitar), recorded the album in eight different studios, each of which they didn’t stay longer than two weeks. Codes And Keys has a different Death Cab feel to it, a feel of growth, maturity and realization. Known for their melancholy, dark emotional songs with long lead ins, this Death Cab album is more upbeat, more emotionally positive, and shies away from their signature half song long lead-ins. Almost all elements of the album will be unexpected to longtime Death Cab For Cutie fans. The songs still have the helpless heartbreak feel to them with hints of The Postal Service, Gibbard’s side project. The band has created a great set of tracks, proving that their music is only growing and their seniority means nothing but loads of experience and talent to create music to look forward to.

An album full of catchy tunes, Codes And Keys starts off with “Home Is A Fire,” which is the first indication that fans should expect something different. The vocals are echoey, almost calming, and there is a lot of percussion already. Second on the track list, “Codes and Keys” is a definite standout on the album. The background music is superb, with a plethora of strings and synthesizers meshing beautifully.  Lyrics such as, “We are one / We are alive / we are alive / we are alive,” perfectly represents the song because it is a mixture of lyrical simplicity and melodic intricacy. An eerie track, “Some Boys” is a standout track as well because Gibbard pours his heart out talking about the past, “Some boys don’t know how to love / they won’t get what they want.” He forms a song that makes you want to learn how to love.

Midway through the album, “Unobstructed Views” marks the beginning of a really strong second half. Bringing back their signature half song long lead in, the tune is ethereal, jingly, dreamy, and energetic at the same time. Lyrics come in halfway, “No unobstructed views / no perfect truths / Just our love / and there’s no verse, no monument of words / for my love / for they can’t hold all I know.” The band hits listeners with powerful percussion and synthesizers and it is reminiscent of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” This real, ambient track is the highpoint of the album.

Another notable track is “Monday Morning,” a mixture of upbeat and gloomy, that easily has the best beat on the album. “Underneath the Sycamore” is as close to Death Cab’s signature sound as any song on the album gets, despite some electronic touches. “Portable Television” is a great contrast to signature Death Cab, showcasing the vocals and a huge amount of piano. Nearing the end of the album, “St. Peter’s Cathedral” is extremely slow and calming. It includes only Gibbard’s voice and a synthesizer to add touches to the vocals, resulting in a beautiful song with relaxing vocals and melodies as well. Rounding out the album with “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” this acoustic song is a good way to remind us of Death Cab’s new unique touches to their sound. Death Cab’s inclusion of so much percussion and synthesizers and removal of guitar riffs was different and a risk but a move in the right direction.

Codes and Keys truly shows us the transition the guys made as artists and musicians. Since Narrow Stairs in 2008, they have gotten married and had kids, matured and realized that they can no longer really sing about youth heartbreak and love.  The transition from their previous albums to Codes and Keys marks the band’s transition in their personal lives, and the band has created an amazing album to show us their growth and acceptance. This album really does show us the band’s ability to try new things, adapt and succeed. Everyone needs to give this album a try. One can only wait to see what the band has in store for the future.

Rating: 9/10
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Record Label: 
Atlantic Records
For Fans Of: The Postal Service, Hot Hot Heat, Nada Surf, Band of Horses, Arcade Fire
Recommended Tracks: “Codes and Keys” // “Some Boys” // “Unobstructed Views” //
Twitter: @DCFC
Purchase: Web Store / Amazon / iTunes


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