Saturday, June 18, 2011

Album Review: Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (Atlantic, 2011)

With a prolific band like Bellingham, Washington’s Death Cab for Cutie, (Codes and Keys being their seventh studio album release), it’s impossible for fans not to speculate how their newest album is going to sound.

“Maybe it’ll sound like Transcendentalism with some Postal Service influence!”

“Maybe it’ll be like Narrow Stairs... but better!”

“What The Open Door EP started, Codes and Keys will finish! Yeah! I’ve got that Ben Gibbard all figured out.”

Anyway, I am no exception to this and also wondered how Death Cab for Cutie would come back after my personal favorite album of theirs, Narrow Stairs. I thought Narrow Stairs, while at a glance might not seem very different, was pretty experimental for them. Most of their songs were fast-paced with surprisingly dark scenarios (and if I’m pointing out how dark the lyrics were and I’m talking about Death Cab, then you know they had to be pretty messed up,) which was an interesting combination. It’s very hard to make “She holds a smile like someone would hold a crying child" catchy but they most certainly did. Drums and bass were also more present on that album, i.e. “I Will Posses Your Heart,” which had a nearly five minute bass groove intro with no lyrics.

There are bands that are all about the lyrics and there are bands that are all about playing their instruments. On Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie were both, which is what the goal should be when making an album.

Okay, now on to what I’m supposed to be writing about: Codes and Keys. Is it worth a listen? Absolutely, it’s Death Cab for Cutie! While Codes and Keys isn’t their best, you can always count on Death Cab to give you some new music to listen to. That fan ruminating if Codes and Keys will have a Postal Service influence in the beginning of this review? Nailed it. (It wasn’t me, for the record.) Death Cab for Cutie of course, are always going to have a Postal Service influence, the project being lead singer Ben Gibbard’s baby and all, but I think Death Cab fans know what I’m talking about. There are songs like “Grapevine Fires” on Narrow Stairs and then there’s “Home is a Fire” and “Unobstructed Views” on Codes and Keys, which exude Postal Service’s sound front and center.

I have to say, even though it does have an overtly obvious Postal Service influence, it’s probably the most unique album the band has produced together. The lyrics are the most different from their other albums - they’re actually pretty happy. In their first single, “You Are a Tourist:” “When there's a doubt in your mind/ ‘cause you think it all the time/ framin' rights into wrongs/ move along.” Um, what?! The Ben Gibbard I know would not just “move along” from that. He’d over-analyze the doubt in his mind, go over to the girls’ house, do something stupid and then over-analyze the shit out of what he did! He usually doesn’t just move along—this isn’t the All-American Rejects—but, hey, perhaps wife Zooey Deschannel has mellowed him out. I could get into that, I guess.

Something I thought was interesting when I was doing some research about this album was that Alan Moulder mixed this album for the band. Moulder has produced albums for many powerhouses such as Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Against Me! While all are great artists, they are completely different from Death Cab’s sound. You don’t really hear Moulder’s influence too much, however there are some songs where I could sense a tinge of Smashing Pumpkins on “Unobstructed Views,” “Some Boys,” and “Home is a Fire”—but that could be because I’m looking for it.

I also want to take a minute to mention the songs “Some Boys” and “Doors Unlocked and Open,” two of my favorite songs on the album. They sound a lot like old school Death Cab for Cutie, so don’t fret if you don’t like this new sound. They seem to still be in touch with their roots. Even the lyrics sound familiar (from “Some Boys”): “Some boys are sleeping/ some boys are sleeping alone/ Some boys don't know how to love.”

Ah, yes. Much better.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Key Tracks: "Some Boys," "Doors Unlocked and Open" and "Unobstructed Views"

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