Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys

Death Cab For Cutie Codes and Keys [Atlantic; 2011]
By Jessica Callender

Formed in 1997, Death Cab For Cutie has always maintained a detachment from the more popular crowds of the industry with their distinct sounds, sad-sack lyrics, and varied concepts. Supposedly their newest album doesn’t keep in line with such tenets as lead vocalist Ben Gibbard describes this album as their least guitar-centric body of work ever. In spite of that, it’s possible that this “emo” band has finally reached the middle of the road.

Codes and Keys, once again produced by guitarist Chris Walla, starts off with “Home is a Fire,” a track that preserves a frenetic pace that is ironically both relaxing and beautiful as Ben Gibbard’s pure vocals invoke a feeling of longing throughout the fluttering timbre and jazzy polyrhythm. The track “Unobstructed Views” begins with a beautifully tense instrumental of jangling piano chords that melts into a very pretty love song. An additional pleasure “Monday Morning,” is Gibbard’s love struck ode to a modern girl enamored with the classics.

However, title track “Codes and Keys” is a bit underwhelming; the driving sounds of piano, violin and some guitar coupled with the lyrics give the song little soul and feels rather forced. A more easily tolerable track, “Doors Unlocked and Open” has a mid-tempo swing to it with what appears to be inspired lyrics as Gibbard continuously sings “we’ll be free with doors unlocked and open”, it also doesn’t hurt that it’s pretty catchy. Lead single “You’re a Tourist” is equally mediocre, with its thick layers of guitar and bass and the repetition of the hook “when there’s a burning in your heart”.

It’s rather difficult for me to be as discouraged about Codes and Keys as I am. I fell in love with Death Cab when Plans came out in 2005 and I was pleasantly intrigued by Narrow Stairs and its dark starkness in 2008; but whatever formula DCFC has concocted for Codes left me rather bored and uninspired. Perhaps they need different production or maybe they’re looking to expand their fan base, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I will continue to be a fan to artists who have worked tirelessly in the industry for over a decade, and hope that this is merely a hiccup in an otherwise fairly awesome track record.

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