Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys”
We left this band last time in 2008 with Narrow Stairs, which had its hit songs from the album be a bit more popish than its previous albums, but with no complaints, the album did very well and delivered a darker more in-depth perception of the band in both lyrical and instrumental aspects. This time Death Cab for Cutie’s tradition producer, Chris Walla (Singer/Song Writer) with some help from Alan Moulder, which has mixed this album as well as others heavy synth based bands, uses his talents to rid the band of its guitar heavy sound and turn more into synth and equipment driven album. Ben Gibbard returns having escaped his heavy set emotions, and delivers a more upbeat lyrical scheme which fits this new sound of the band.
Some songs do have a twist to them from their contemporary and traditional sounds that the band is known for, but others sound similar and almost homely. The music in this album spans the array of their previous albums and songs as a whole. It is difficult to say that they no longer sound like the “Death Cab,” we knew and loved, but this is a leap that they are trying to make to no longer be referenced as the little indie band from Bellingham Washington.
In some of the songs that are a bit heavier on the synth, the sounds of their influence, like The Smiths (which they did a cover song of “This Charming Man,” in an earlier album as well as an acoustic version of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”) can easily be heard in this album as well as other bands of that era. There is even a song titled “Some Boys,” which is a tribute to the song, “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others,” by The Smiths. Even the lyrical scheme of the song is fairly similar to that of The Smiths song, which is a great homage from Death Cab for Cutie to the band which has influenced their music for years.
In Narrow Stairs, as radio friendly as it sounded, was a dark lyrical masterpiece, which used pessimistic and melancholy lyrics with the band modifying their sound a bit to be either ironic or on key with their songs such as, “Cath,” which critiques marriage by saying, “The whispers that it won’t last roll up and down the pews.” Also, we can remember the song which defined that album, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” which was four and a half minutes of a buildup in ever instrument starting with a heavy bass line as if one were dreaming, and waking up stalking a girl saying, “You’ve got to spend some time with me.”
There has always been a depth to the lyrics with Death Cab for Cutie’s music, but now that has changed a bit with “Codes and Keys.” In general, the lyrics are more elated and uplifting. Their debut song, “You Are a Tourist,” has delightful and sprightful lyrics, “When there’s a burning in your heart. An endless yearning in your heart. Build it bigger than the Sun.” They are doing what they have done before, using a catchy lyrical scheme and instruments, this time not relying as much on the piano or guitar, and making the listener feel what the song is. The band has matured enough to be able to play with the listeners emotions, swaying them back in forth between peppy upbeat lyrics and sounds, such as “Underneath the Sycamore,” to a more serious and sophisticated sound scheme such as the one found in, “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” The two before mentioned songs are back to back on this album, which shows how the band knows how to balance its sound out throughout the album. There is still some convolution in the songs of this album, which is what is expected from Ben Gibbard, but not to an extent which can define the album such as it did in “Transatlanticism.”
“Doors Unlocked and Open,” is the prime example of the difference between the last album and this one. We start with a guitar, and then almost immediately the drums kick into effect, followed by a whimsical bass line, and then the synth and other mechanical equipment erupt finishing the buildup of the song. This is not a common modern scheme of instrumental play, but it is fairly similar to that of “New Order.” Also taken from, “New Order” is the snappy memorable lyrics and the perfect amount of collaboration between the synth and guitar. With the help of Alan Moulder we can hear Ben Gibbard’s voice morph from an echo and insecure voice in each verse to a reassuring and lucid voice in the chorus, which has not been used by the band since their first album.
As most Death Cab for Cutie albums, there is a long interlude of music followed by catchy and sentimental lyrics like, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” or “Transatlanticism.” Unlike its predecessors, “Unobstructed Views,” does not match the eight minutes that the others were, but it does not need to. The sounds and combinations of instruments truly make this, at the very least an admirable collaboration of Ben Gibbard’s side project “The Postal Service,” with Death Cab for Cutie. It was surprising that a bit of that sound had yet to spill over to Death Cab, but finally it has. Keeping with tradition, when it comes to songs with a long interlude, the piano is the main instrument used, by maintaining the rhythm through the entirety of the song. The sound of the song is a bit abstract and sounds as if it was unorganized and just pieced together in a session, but it is just like some of the other songs in previous albums, an acquired sound. Through all of the mayhem of sounds the lyrics speak of love. “No unobstructed views. No perfect truths. Just our love, just our love.”
Though there are traditional Death Cab songs on this album, we do not find revolutionary use of the synth or new sound scheme in this album. In the end there is a gratitude to Death Cab for Cutie for releasing a new album after a few years of anticipation, and a great mix of inspirational bands and modern music and lyrics. This album resonates to a broad audience, and even if you are not a follower of the band, the different styles in this album can nearly guarantee that there exists at least one song which you will press, “repeat,” for.
If you enjoyed this you might also want to read my show review of the band at: https://itsoundsbetterlive.wordpress.com/live-music-2/death-cab-for-cutie-with-telekinesis/
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