Although easily still one of the world''s most prominent "indie" bands, Death Cab for Cutie has evolved in some way with each of their albums. Releasing their first album, "Something About Airplanes," in 1999, Death Cab''s musical landscape has built up from low fidelity...
Although easily still one of the world''s most prominent "indie" bands, Death Cab for Cutie has evolved in some way with each of their albums. Releasing their first album, "Something About Airplanes," in 1999, Death Cab''s musical landscape has built up from low fidelity tunes with complex structures to neatly polished studio productions that border on pop music.
Despite these changes, the lyrics have managed to maintain a similar subject matter throughout the 21st century. Ben Gibbard, the lead singer and chief songwriter for Death Cab for Cutie, has always had bit of a dark cloud hanging over his head and a knack for translating his feelings into colorful, heartfelt lyrics. On 2008''s "Narrow Stairs," Gibbard''s sullen mood seemed to have hit its peak with tracks like "You Can Do Better Than Me" poetically emphasizing his state of mind while still finding enough musical beauty to more than satisfy both fans and critics alike.
"Codes and Keys," Death Cab for Cutie''s first album in three years, finds the band in their biggest transition since their move to a major label on 2005''s "Plans." The reason for the noticeable change between albums this time is none other than Zooey Deschanel, an actress as well as the "she" in the band She and Him. In September or 2009, Gibbard and Deschanel were married and ever since Gibbard has had fewer reasons to frown or write sad songs.
Most fans received their first taste of "Codes and Keys" when "You Are a Tourist" was released as a single on March 28th. By the time Gibbard sings "There''s nothing to fear, save the tears" it becomes clear Deschanel has turned the songwriter''s frown upside down. With the exception of a looped back introduction, the remainder of "You Are a Tourist" is actually quite similar to Death Cab''s previous two records musically, but lyrically, Death Cab has taken a 180.
The opening track on "Codes and Keys," "Home is a Fire," once again acknowledges Gibbard''s latest state of mind as well his new home address of Los Angeles. During the chorus, Gibbard sings "Plates they will shift, houses will shake, fences will drift, we will awake only to find nothing''s the same." Nothing, in fact, is the same on "Home is a Fire." Opening with distorted vocals and a stripped down instrumental section void almost entirely of any variation of guitar, this is not the same Death Cab for Cutie emotional twenty-somethings with dark-rimmed glasses remember. However, "Home is a Fire" offers the perfect introduction to the band''s first major mood swing.
The title track, "Codes and Keys," follows "Home is a Fire" with a slightly more familiar formula, but still finds the guitar hidden behind a honky-tonk piano and a sweeping string arrangement. Wearing many hats these days, guitarist Chris Walla is also the chief producer and composer on "Codes and Keys," so although his main instrument may not be as prominent as previous records, it''s safe to say Ben Gibbard would never consider making a Death Cab record without him.
As "Codes and Keys" progresses and takes shape, the lack of guitar work begins to define the album as a whole. Previous smash hits like "Soul Meets Body" and the dark love song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" relied heavily on the guitar, as most bands do, but potential singles of the future, "Monday Morning" and "Under the Sycamore" as well as the playful "Portable Television" that separates the two tracks all utilize piano and synthesized sounds as the key backing instrumentation.
Just as "I Will Possess Your Heart," clung tightly to listeners'' eardrums for over eight minutes in 2008, Death Cab''s newest blossoming masterpiece, "Unobstructed Views," is the longest track on "Codes and Keys." With an instrumental introduction that lasts exactly half the length of the song, "Unobstructed Views" may not reach the radio waves, but the beauty Death Cab finds in the midst of their latest techniques is stunning.
Ben Gibbard may be happier these days, but he does find an opportunity to be negative toward the end of the record on "St. Peter''s Cathedral." Without offering any alternative views or playing devil''s advocate, Gibbard casually denies the existence of Heaven saying, "When our hearts stop ticking, this is the end." For anyone still left in doubt, Gibbard repeats, "there''s nothing past it" over and over again as the track fades out. Perhaps now that he has found love, success and happiness in his life, Gibbard is focusing his pent up negativity on the afterlife now.
With most of Death Cab for Cutie''s longtime fans growing up on less than uplifting tunes, Death Cab closes their latest effort with some advice for each of them in "Stay Young, Go Dancing." It doesn''t typically take seven albums, but most bands eventually grows out of their period of angst and heartbreak. Many fans of Death Cab''s earliest records may find "Codes and Keys" somewhat disappointing, but after over a decade of love and loss, a change of mood may be just what Death Cab for Cutie and their fans need to carry them through the next decade.
Similar Artists: Bright Eyes, The Decemberists
Track Suggestion: "Codes and Keys"