Sound: You would expect after front-man Ben Gibbard getting married to Hollywood actress Zooey Deschanel and kicking his pension for alcohol, a much more mature and upbeat atmosphere from his latest release "codes and Keys" would materialise. Well, you would be right. After years of somber guitar melodies and down-trodden lyrics from past releases, Death Cab For Cutie attempts to lighten our dark hearts with some feel good happy-core indie-rock tunes. Firstly, its important to note that this album is more driven by piano/synthesizer than any other Death Cab release to date. Although it works tremendously well on some tracks, "St Peters Cathedral" and "Codes And Keys", I would say overall, Chris Walla (guitarist), is drastically under-utilized. His dominant presence of other albums I would argue is one of the factors that made this band great. Therefore, I am dismayed that they pulled back his guitar contributions. Meanwhile, do not go into this album thinking Ben Gibbard will be breaking any new musical ground. "Codes And Keys" contains many of the same elementary chord structures and progressions used in past albums. To their defense, I still enjoy them on this album as much as I did on the last one, but its clear this album is not intended spur a musical revolution or creative Renaissance.
As for the songs themselves, the first single off the album, "You Are A Tourist", is a remarkably toe-tapping love-song with such a soaring guitar hook [a la Chris Walla] that I would daresay this tune may be in contention for one of the songs for the summer. Not to say that you will not find any brooding angsty tracks, on this release, the track "Unobstructed Views" has sweeping synthy/piano mix flow that is easy to lay your head back and get lost in. However, some songs are a bit less engaging. The song "Doors Unlocked And Opened" comes dangerously close to being a droning mess, lacking any cohesive hook or progressing structure that can hold the individual pieces together. Surprisingly, this album decides to end itself on a more springy upbeat footing, "Stay Young, Go Dancing", compared to previous albums whose closing tended to be more introspective and subdued. While this ending-track is a fun acoustic romp, I prefer Death Cab albums to bow-out with a melancholy whimper rather than a festive jig. // 8
Lyrics and Singing: As in the past, the themes of this recent album revolve around his new formed love, the increasing disconnectedness through aging and of course, the fear of finiteness. Yet, many of the mopey, woe-is-me lyrics of past albums are absent, which is, in my opinion, a good thing. One of my favourite choral fade-outs is in the song "St Peters Cathedral", where Ben muses, "when our hearts stop ticking this is the end and there's nothing past this", then repeating the last four words over and over in a haunting thought-provoking climax. This sort of deep shadowy fade is what I have come to love over the years from this band. Meanwhile, Ben has continued to play the out-cast loner when he declares, "Some boys don't know how to love", in the song "Some Boys". While these sorts of lines may have felt cute when Death Cab was a much younger band, it comes off as a bit patronizing from the older more mature Death Cab. Meanwhile, in a good many songs, it is clear to pick up references to his newly wed wife. In "You Are A Tourist" he exasperates, "I couldn't stand a chance without you", while in "Stay Young, Go Dancing", Gibbard bellows that "when she sings I hear a symphony". While you would like to imagine that these songs are about an every-woman archetype that I can apply my own thoughts and feelings to, its hard to not picture Zooey when Gibbard belts out these sort of lines. // 7
Impression: Overall, the songs on this album DO fit solidly together as a united and gathered collection of Ben Gibbards new formed direction. Does "Codes And Keys" herald the new Death Cab? Well lets just say I hope that their next record delves a bit more into the dark recesses of their past work. While I do love many of these songs, a few of them fall flat for me. Most notably, "Portable Television" is a bit uninspired in its sound and texture, while "Home Is A Fire" is a good stand-alone song, it would not have been my choice to start out this album. However, as a whole, I really do enjoy this album. The songs "Codes And Keys" and "Under The Sycamore" are two of my favorite, while more minor songs like "Some Boys" are also really phenomenal ballads. It would be a great purchase for any alum of their past work or even a newbie just getting into Death Cab. // 8