Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
Death Cab for Cutie has had a good streak– an indie band with a noteworthy reputation, their earlier albums (Transatlanticism, Plans, and Narrow Stairs) were all important in their own ways and found general famous in the critical community. Not only that, but they shaped an audience– sure, that audience was the same one to tune in to The O.C. every week, but that show had some damn good indie music, and it served to bring lesser-known, yet strong artists (Keane, The Subways, The Walkmen) to the forefront. But this isn’t about The O.C.; this is about Death Cab’s seventh(!) album release, Codes and Keys, which was not only streamed from their site a week before release but, hopefully, includes more of the same soothing (and occasionally transcendent) Death Cab we’ve come to expect.
Rest assured, if you liked old Death Cab, you’ll probably like new Death Cab.
The lead-in song, “Home is a Fire”, builds itself up from the get-go with a subtle, yet flurrying beat, but doesn’t hide the Death Cab sound experienced for several years past. Vocalist Ben Gibbard assures that “nothing’s the same” in this first track, and he’s right in the sense that there’s a bit of a shift. It doesn’t feel altogether wrong– it feels great, in fact, that they’re back! “Home is a Fire” is cool, though. It leaves you anticipating the rest of the CD.
Some singles, like their debut track from the album, “You are a Tourist”, are just too interesting not to pass up. This one separates itself from their earlier major hits and creates another DC classic, reinventing all there is to enjoy about their characteristic sound. Like “The Sound of Settling”, “Soul Meets Body”, and “I Will Possess Your Heart” before it, it’s a tune that stays in the mind long after a first listen and resonates like a bell in your memory.
People who know Death Cab are going to enjoy songs like “Monday Morning”, “Underneath the Sycamore”, and “Stay Young, Go Dancing” (the last song on the album), and with good reason. They’re far from the band’s strongest fare (it’s far from the band’s strongest album) but they’re all smartly-made in their own right and likely to be the ones remembered and replayed. Coincidentally, they’re also the most optimistic and upbeat of the songs in the set (of eleven), something which Death Cab is perhaps not known too well for (by non-listeners). DC has the tendency of retreating into the darkness – as shown in the more melancholic sounds from their earlier works, but they’re at their best when they push a bit harder.
While the disc’s second track, “Codes and Keys”, contains piano (a notable, but welcome move from their past CDs) it’s still a bit too familiar. Every time they say “Codes and Keys”, I expect them to follow it up with “…endless possibilities” from their earlier single “Your Heart is an Empty Room” (from Plans). It’s really not a bad song, but it’s also not new ground. It isn’t alone – other songs like “Unobstructed Views” sound very similar to some of their earlier hopeful, yet restrained pieces (albeit with piano) and take a while to become memorable; they only act as spacers between the more interesting, uptempo songs on the album.
Maybe I liked their past three releases a little too much. Some of their earlier stuff is nostalgic and some of it is just flat-out good. None of Codes and Keys (save “You Are a Tourist”) matches up to it– yet. I’m confident that some of it will grow on me, be played at key moments of the next year, and make its way into interesting stories, just like the other songs in their discography. Death Cab is never really a band to sit and listen to in a solid block unless you already know their stuff– you come across it, make your own meaning for it, and it sticks with you. Sometimes their music just needs the right key moment, but rest assured, there always will be a moment.