Death Cab for Cutie
Codes and Keys


3.0
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
June 3rd, 2011 | 118 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: So this is the new Death Cab, and I don't feel any different.

There’s something to be said about Ben Gibbard’s transformation from a Built to Spill-loving Northwestern weepie to indie rock’s poet laureate. Death Cab for Cutie, for all their splendid musicianship and Chris Walla’s knack for evolving their sound, have always been about Gibbard. Gibbard, bemoaning a meaningless relationship in “Tiny Vessels” or articulating that eternal feeling of moving on that “Photobooth” spoke to so clearly, always so straightforward with his lyrical bloodletting but talented with his knives. Gibbard made self-flagellation and depression and that universal feeling of not always getting what you want an art instead of a blunt instrument, and that was always the key behind Death Cab’s success. It’s what led to them being erroneously labeled “emo” by the mainstream media after Plans’ success, what led to massive, unyielding popularity for a band that otherwise would have just been another number in a “best-of-the-00s” compilation. Even as their sound expanded and swelled, as major label budgets tend to cause, Gibbard remained the constant: evocative, steadfast, and preternaturally attuned to the hopes and fears of insecure youth.

On Codes and Keys, Death Cab take that constant and make it just another cog in a sound that remains progressive yet coldly distant. The focus on keyboards and synths at the expense of traditional guitars is omnipresent, but it’s Gibbard, the Death Cab mainstay, that is missing. Not in the literal sense, mind you; his sensitive tenor is still the same one that desperately yearned for intimacy and warmth on Transatlanticism, but the feeling has changed. It’s evident in the way it comes to you across the speakers: swathed in effects, reverb and digitalized effects predominating and making the most human part of Death Cab come across too often as chilly and disconnected. The lyrics don’t help matters. At his best, Gibbard is cautiously optimistic with a tendency to veer towards cloyingly sweet, as he does on closer “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” a song which would seem more at home in a Lifetime movie rather than a Death Cab album. At his worst he seems content to just string picturesque phrases together in the hopes that listeners will imbue them with their own meaning. “Somewhere down, down / down in the ocean of sound / we’ll live in slow-motion / and be free / with doors unlocked and open,” Gibbard sings opaquely on “Doors Unlocked and Open,” and a prize to the person who can divine the meaning behind it. Songwriters by the dozen can be accused of being needlessly abstract, but when Gibbard opens “Unobstructed Views” with a cliché like “there’s no eye in the sky / just our love,” you can practically hear the thud.

Structurally, Codes and Keys is a sound album, and one much more intent on “experimenting” than the red herring that was Narrow Stairs. This is still Death Cab, as one listen to any number of catchy melodies here will attest to, but the band seem much more interested in textures and the space between them. This works on a song like “St. Peter’s Cathedral,” where the gradual buildup between skittish synths and vocal harmonies pays off, but not so much on “Unobstructed Views,” which confuses boredom and repetition with experimentation. But for the most part, Codes and Keys sounds like you’d expect. For all its effects and haunting atmospherics, “Some Boys” is all about the hook and ear candy melody, as is the lilting, pleasantly trivial “Portable Television,” which is about as straightforward a song as you’ll find on the album. For all the good tunes, from “Underneath the Sycamore” to the pounding ivories of the title track, one gets the feeling that this is just Death Cab going through the motions, trying out this heavy use of piano and an increased studio budget because, well, it’s there and it sounds pretty damn cool. It’s telling that one of the best songs here, “You Are A Tourist,” makes its money off a vintage Chris Walla guitar riff that propels everything forward with the kind of candid energy many tunes here lack.

So, has Gibbard been Yokoed? It’s tempting to say, given how many of the songs here sound like the result of a man who's happy, maybe for the first time in years, but doesn’t quite know how to lay it all out. “Monday Morning” would seem to disagree, a lovely bit of Postal Service-esque electronica that is one of the most affecting declarations of love Gibbard has ever penned and happily fits into Codes and Keys’ sonic aesthetic. Unfortunately, it’s the exception that proves the rule, as it stands out from many of the other tracks because it is so distinctively genuine and, in turn, easy to relate to. That’s the heart of Codes and Keys problem, a dilemma rooted more in Gibbard’s change than the band’s direction. The Death Cab of Transatlanticism and even Narrow Stairs is long gone, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; singing about your darkest emotions for a decade plus is not the healthiest way to live (just ask Elliott Smith). Until Gibbard can harness this newfound happiness with the kind of lyrical flair his fans are used to, Death Cab remain in danger of being, well, just another indie band.



Recent reviews by this author
Death From Above 1979 The Physical World...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead Source Tags & Codes
Ryan Adams Ryan AdamsBlonde Redhead Barragan
The New Pornographers Brill BruisersSpoon They Want My Soul
user ratings (433)
Chart.
3.1
good
other reviews of this album
Spencer Stoyer (3.5)
Codes and Keys doesn’t elicit the same amount of emotion that has made past albums so breathtaking...

David Shephard (4)
Death Cab observes the similarity between “playing it safe” and “playing it smart.”...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Athom
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


17213 Comments


EXACTLY!

Digging: Inigo Kennedy - Vaudeville

mallen-
June 3rd 2011


1235 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Death Cab remain in danger of being, well, just another indie band

I've thought that since the beginning

AggravatedYeti
June 3rd 2011


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Death Cab remain just another indie band


fixt.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


17213 Comments


stop shitting on my favorite band. this album alone has already broken my heart...

SeaAnemone
June 3rd 2011


20304 Comments


sad. Death Cab used to be special.

Digging: Holy Sons - Lost Decade II

AggravatedYeti
June 3rd 2011


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I'll send you a box of kleenex and a liter of decent whiskey for your birthday Adam.

bloc
June 3rd 2011


34848 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Album is boring

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


10418 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

didn't know the death cab hate here was so strong

Athom
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


17213 Comments


♥ I'll finish em both off listening to Facts.

Knott-
Emeritus
June 3rd 2011


10195 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Stay Young, Go Dancing is awesome. Easily as good as Lack Of Color. But for the most part this review is absolutely spot-on.

If I can summarise what I hate about this record in one example, it's that there are more lyrics in 'St. Peter's Cathedral' after he sings "such ambition never failed to amaze me".

AggravatedYeti
June 3rd 2011


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

♥ I'll finish em both off listening to Facts.

awww now that's the way to do it.

I don't hate Death Cab they've just been very hit-or-miss since The Photo Album. Gibbard's voice is angelic though. What pisses me off most about Death Cab is how much potential they've wasted. It is just easy to develop a distaste when you've spent so much time waiting for that album

oh and after actually reading this review I wish I could pos it so hard.

StrangerofSorts
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


2714 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I've skipped this album for now, Death Cab "went all mainstream" (this is my inner hipster speaking) with Transatlantism and then just got worse and worse. I'm going to go back and listen to We Have The Facts and pretend I've got it on vinyl so I can feel all pretentious and maybe I'll write a song about it later.

Honestly though, Death Cab have been bland for longer than just this album :/

Xenophanes
Emeritus
June 3rd 2011


10594 Comments


Band has always sort of bored me, I assume that this is no different


Aids
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


23819 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh my god greatest summary, haven't read the review yet but I just needed to say that

I like this more than you, I think

reading.........now!

bigguytoo9
June 3rd 2011


246 Comments


Title track, Underneath The Sycamore and You Are A Tourist are great numbers for sure, even St Peters Cathedral is pretty solid. The rest of the album is just OK. Id still buy it, at around 10$ or so if the oppertunity arose.

Romulus
June 3rd 2011


8435 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

yeah this band has never been very good but this review is very nice

Eko
June 3rd 2011


2119 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

summary is so brilliant

crazyblinddude
June 3rd 2011


3389 Comments


Haha nice review and summary. Gonna give this a few more listens to see if it grows. I hope at least a little bit.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


15737 Comments


totes correct. band has never been that interesting.

Digging: Ricky Eat Acid - Three Love Songs

sniper
June 3rd 2011


19049 Comments


summary ftmfw



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy