Codes And Keys review by Death Cab for Cutie

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: May 31, 2011
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 7.2 (18 votes)
Death Cab for Cutie: Codes And Keys
1

Sound — 8
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.

Lyrics — 7
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.

Overall Impression — 8
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.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TheSilverBeatle
    "Codes And Keys" contains many of the same elementary chord structures and progressions used in past albums.
    Get your head out of your ass! Who are you to call a chord structure or progression elementary? Stop being so pretentious and just enjoy music for what it is.
    "You Are A Tourist", is a remarkably toe-tapping love-song
    Love song? You heard the word heart mentioned and decided it was a love song? It's an inspirational song if you want to classify it as anything, it's about following your dreams and not ignoring and suppressing the "burning in your heart." Unfortunately I've read the rest of your review and you just come of as a very pretentious and unpleasant person. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't play music of your own based on the way you judge another artists work and criticize them for not living up your expectations of who they should be. I haven't even heard the album in full yet, not even talking about the album, I was just really appalled reading this review.
    Dpullam
    I bought this album yesterday and I can't wait to give it a listen. I have heard previews though and I definitely preferred their older work over this. Even so, this album will be a great addition to my collection.
    GidBass
    It strange to suddenly have this band going all bliss, but it does have a nice feel to it.
    Taargus
    I thought it was better than Narrow Stairs. Not as good as Plans, about as good as We Have The Facts. 8.1 That`s my review.
    MT_Obsidian
    This is a very well-written review, I must say. Well done! I am a D.C.F.C. noob in the sense that I only have one album, but I think I'm going to start looking for other ones too. The single off this one was very catchy; maybe this will be my next one lol
    Benje
    I like You Are a Tourist in this album but thats about it... And I have liked Death Cab for Cutie since Crooked Teeth!
    ChompChompChomp
    It's an alright album. I'd agree with the rating. The only thing I have to point out is that Chris Walla is the producer on the album and he plays a lot of the keyboard so we're not really losing any of his presence, it's just being shifted into other facilities. As for "You Are A Tourist", the lead riff is actually being played by Gibbard and not Walla. It could very well have been Walla's idea but it is played by Gibbard and is most likely of his making. I agree Walla is a very talented, hook-generating machine, but he's also an extremely talented producer and I think his decision to play up the keyboard aspect instead of the guitar elements was a very intelligent move that really makes this album stand apart from the rest of Death Cab's work, not stand out mind you, but definitely stand apart.
    gquady09
    Death Cab makes me want to kill myself. A lot of their songs are very depressing...
    pwninator123
    gquady09 wrote: Death Cab makes me want to kill myself. A lot of their songs are very depressing...
    That's unfortunate. You are a very unsettled individual, who needs some medical help and musical intelligence.
    Grimriffer
    One of the few indie bands I like. A definate purchase for me. Mediocre review though.
    bosshog11
    TheSilverBeatle wrote: "Codes And Keys" contains many of the same elementary chord structures and progressions used in past albums. Get your head out of your ass! Who are you to call a chord structure or progression elementary? Stop being so pretentious and just enjoy music for what it is. "You Are A Tourist", is a remarkably toe-tapping love-song Love song? You heard the word heart mentioned and decided it was a love song? It's an inspirational song if you want to classify it as anything, it's about following your dreams and not ignoring and suppressing the "burning in your heart." Unfortunately I've read the rest of your review and you just come of as a very pretentious and unpleasant person. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't play music of your own based on the way you judge another artists work and criticize them for not living up your expectations of who they should be. I haven't even heard the album in full yet, not even talking about the album, I was just really appalled reading this review.
    I think your pretentious and unpleasant...
    strat0blaster
    Interesting album, but I'd really love to know what the hell "feel good happy-core indie-rock" is. Just saying.
    IN54N1TY
    Get your head out of your ass! Who are you to call a chord structure or progression elementary? Stop being so pretentious and just enjoy music for what it is.
    So uncalled for dude