Review Summary: Codes and Keys doesn’t elicit the same amount of emotion that has made past albums so breathtaking. And isn’t that the reason we listen to bands like Death Cab?
Plans was a giant leap forward for a band that had rooted themselves in monotony and inserted apathy where passion should’ve been. There is much to be said about the incredible writing talent that Gibbard has but the bands musical execution never quite seemed to capture the potential of the beautiful words that flowed from Gibbards mind. Until Plans. We then get treated to Narrow Stairs which showcases some of the best writing I’ve seen on an album and the band is more than happy to follow suit, creating what may have been one of the best releases of 2008. Now we have Codes and Keys and the exact opposite problem is present: The music is still beautiful but Mr. Gibbard is getting lazy.
As soon as you heard the single “You Are a Tourist” you could tell the Gibbard took a back seat and let the band do the rest of the work. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as there are many catchy riffs and plenty of interesting musicianship to be found throughout the album. As for me, the thing I’ve always loved about Death Cab was how well-written the lyrics are and how much they can pertain to my own life. But few relatable things are found here, the overall writing of the album feels far off and maybe a little bit too abstract to be relatable. Some of the blandness that has plagued pre-Plans albums is here too. It feels as if this is Death Cab just going through the motions, creating something that will make the record label happy but without any real conviction.
All this doesn’t make it a bad album; there are plenty of gorgeous things to be found. Like the opening piano in “Unobstructed Views” and the surprisingly optimistic “Stay Young, Go Dancing”. The best thing about the album is when Gibbard isn’t singing. The music soars and soothes just as well as you’d expect from any good Death Cab album and I’m more than happy to hear it. Such things as the nicely catchy riff in “You Are a Tourist” or the lovely string instrumentation in the title track “Codes and Keys” can hook someone into the album. Unfortunately, there isn’t much substance to keep us there, the writing is just, lethargic and uninteresting for the most part. The best writing is found on “St. Peters Cathedral” wherein he approaches faith with caution and suspicion. The imagery is fantastic and you briefly get a glimpse of the great “Narrow Stairs” Death Cab.
Overall, Codes and Keys is a good one or two time listen but if you want something that tugs your heartstrings just a little more listen to Plans or Narrow Stairs. The music is great and there are one or two good writing moments, but I miss the Ben Gibbard that could write some of the most spectacularly written poetry in modern indie music.
St. Peters Cathedral
Stay Young, Go Dancing