Release Date: May 31, 2011
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There are no stalkers or out-of-control brush fires on the latest by Death Cab for Cutie, immediately making it a more uplifting affair than 2008's Narrow Stairs. Instead, there's a soulful dude, voice often wrapped in echo, looking on the bright side. "When there's a burning in your heart," sings Ben Gibbard on "You Are a Tourist," the set's follow-your-bliss single, "let it grow." The positivity is hardly worry-free, and the arrangements, shaped by My Bloody Valentine mixologist Alan Moulder, add disorienting details (the dubby ghost vocals on "Doors Unlocked and Open") for those listening closely.
Indie rock used to be about crafting shambling odes to slackerdom — and not caring much if the guitars were in tune. But music on the fringes has grown increasingly gorgeous: intricately built bedroom symphonies from the likes of Fleet Foxes, the Shins, and Bon Iver. Before them all, Death Cab for Cutie kick-started the prettiness revolution with 2003’s Transatlanticism, their breakout fourth album.
To celebrate their first new release since 2009 and their seventh studio album, Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie will be playing all over their native Pacific Northwest and, perhaps just as notably, filming an episode of VH1’s Storytellers. I say “just as notably” because a band filming an episode of Storytellers usually coincides with my mom beginning to like and listen to said band. Which coincides, in turn, with me being no longer able to like them, as their popularity and cultural saturation has grown to a point that threatens the eggshell-thin armor protecting my rock critic street cred.
The sound of a band revitalised, re-inspired and highly evolved... On their sixth studio album, 08’s ‘Narrow Stairs’, there was a danger things were getting comfortable for Death Cab For Cutie. Through the band’s lengthy career songwriter Ben Gibbard had honed a formulae that allowed him to easily craft that album’s 11 songs with trademark twinkling melody and angular wrap-around guitars.
Perhaps the charm of Codes and Keys stems from the clever recycling of tropes—both musical and thematic. Deftly skirting outright retread, “Doors Unlocked and Open,” sounds like the photo negative version of “We Laugh Indoors”; “Monday Morning” shares DNA with “Your New Twin Sized Bed”; and the extended opening of “Unobstructed Views” replaces the driving baseline of “I Will Possess Your Heart” with a gently cresting piano-based melody. While some may argue this represents a lack of advancement for the band, Death Cab For Cutie have always sold themselves on equal parts cracked hearts and crumpled love notes.
Props to Zooey Deschanel for finally cheering Ben Gibbard up. On Narrow Stairs, the Death Cab frontman sang songs like “You Could Do Better Than Me” and “Pity and Fear,” filling the album with the sort of articulate, hyper-literate gloominess you might expect from a depressed poetry major. Codes and Keys, released three years after Narrow Stairs and two years after his marriage to Deschanel, paints a brighter picture.
Almost 15 years into their career, [a]Death Cab For Cutie[/a] have earned the right to do as they please. Arguably they earned it a while back, but having navigated from grassroots indie acclaim ([b]‘Something About Airplanes’[/b]) through big-time breakout ([b]‘Transatlanticism’[/b] and [b]‘Plans’[/b]) to genuine OK-they’re-a-proper-big-deal-now ([b]‘Narrow Stairs’[/b]), the Washington band are now, with [b]‘Codes And Keys’[/b], pushing themselves in new directions that very much smack of doing precisely whatever the fuck they want. What makes [b]‘Codes…’[/b] largely a pleasure is the fact the band are clearly having fun trying new stuff out while retaining the quiet dignity and grace that won them so much love in the first place.
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.
Ok, so she’s hardly Yoko Ono, but Zooey Deschanel might have ruined Death Cab For Cutie. Well, that’s not fair. They’re not ruined, as such, but they’re certainly bruised, a little bloodied perhaps. One eye doesn’t work so good. They walk with a hobble. The last album we heard from them ….
“The Sound of Settling” is one of the more charming singles in Death Cab for Cutie’s repertoire, all syncopated handclaps and a terrifically catchy “ba-ba” refrain, but the same title would work as an honest description of Codes and Keys, an understated affair which finds the band embracing their tried-and-true sound with few reservations. Following the morose and musically uneven Narrow Stairs, the platinum-selling indie vets have returned with a set that’s less experimental and, thankfully, more consistent. Maybe it’s just that the last few years have been kind to Ben Gibbard; he did, after all, consummate every sensitive indie dude’s fantasy by becoming Mr.
In every sense, Death Cab for Cutie, from Washington's Pacific coast, have enjoyed a very American kind of success. A decade after they started releasing albums, 2008's Narrow Stairs entered the US charts at No 1, the result of constant touring, slowly building a fanbase, paying dues. You don't have to be an expert in the UK music industry to realise this is all in marked contrast to the British way of things, which now involves alighting on a band the first time they step blinking from their rehearsal room and immediately showering them with so many superlatives everyone's sick of the sight of them within six months.
Leading up to Death Cab for Cutie's last record, 2008's Narrow Stairs, guitarist/producer Chris Walla claimed that they were taking inspiration from Brainiac and "heavy, sludgy, slow metal," and that the record contained a "10-minute long Can jam. " But nothing on the record sounded remotely similar to those references; the jam in question, "I Will Possess Your Heart", actually ran a bit over eight minutes, and I don't think anyone mistook Ben Gibbard for Damo Suzuki. Leading up to the band's latest effort, Codes and Keys, the name-dropping returned, when Gibbard told SPIN that it was keyboard-heavy and "not guitar-based," citing Brian Eno's Another Green World as a hint of what to expect.
Death Cab for Cutie have made a career out of lyrics, song titles and album names that scream “I take myself way too seriously and I’m indie as fuck.” This is a cheap path to perceived authenticity and forcing your way into that weird indie/mainstream world. Songwriter and vocalist Ben Gibbard has been shoving wordy, cloy and overwrought lyrics down our throats for over a decade now, and it’s high time for a change. Luckily, Codes and Keys partially delivers.
On “Home Is a Fire”, the opening track of Death Cab for Cutie‘s seventh studio album, Codes and Keys, Ben Gibbard sings of “attempting a clean break, with nowhere left to go”–appropriately addressing the album’s place in the Seattle institution’s extended catalog. The first part of that line manifests itself clearly throughout Keys’11 tracks, even at first listen, with visible straying from the melancholic themes, straightforward instrumentation, and emotional punch that characterized their career up to this point. The second half functions as an explanation of the first: The members of Death Cab for Cutie have reached an age of comfort, one of marriage and production careers, a maturity that is, for better or for worse, entirely incompatible with angst-ridden meditations on youth.
It’s always interesting to hear what an artist’s intentions are with his or her latest record, if only because they are often so far removed from the final product. Even in my brief time behind the desks at TMT, I’ve encountered a few real headscratchers. The fact that Girl Talk thought All Day was something deeper than a crude party mix still saddens me.
Perhaps it was inevitable. When Death Cab for Cutie started out as a wide-eyed indie-rock outfit on the West Coast, few would have guessed that this group of nerdy, Built to Spill-loving college kids would go on to not only sign to a major label, but soon thereafter score a chart-topping album, a gaggle of Grammy nominations, and be that rare kind of act that could still make platinum albums despite having very little in the way of radio support. Yet when listening to the Death Cab who made 1998’s Something About Airplanes and the Death Cab who made 2003’s breakthrough effort Transatlanticism, it’s obvious that the band did a lot of growing up in that short time frame, learning how to open up their sound to a larger variety of textures, all while frontman Ben Gibbard’s character studies and wordplay grew sharper with each disc.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE “Codes and Keys” (Barsuk/Atlantic) Love, death, disaster, transformation: there are no frivolous topics on “Codes and Keys,” the seventh album by Death Cab for Cutie. Never exactly a light-hearted band, Death Cab for Cutie has a singer and lyricist, Benjamin Gibbard, who has been pondering big questions for the better part of the last decade. The band usually frames his earnest high tenor with methodically picked, interlaced guitars, structures that can swell from within.
The little alternative band that could march on and on. Ian Winwood 2011 The rise and rise of Washington State’s Death Cab for Cutie is a phenomenon that has occurred largely without comment. A group that are not particularly photogenic, playing songs that tend to whisper rather than scream, the exquisitely understated quartet have staked their claim on the mainstream without much of the mainstream actually noticing.
There’s two ways to look at Death Cab for Cutie. They are simultaneously the epitome of the little indie-band-that-could– Seattle-based with jangly yet melancholic riff-ridden tunes that seeped into various layers of the pop culture strata; and they are also part of the Atlantic Records roster – a band who’s last album, Narrow Stairs, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200.
It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since Ben Gibbard and his Bellingham, WA compatriots released Narrow Stairs, the most unsettled and harrowing entry in the Death Cab for Cutie catalogue. In that time, literary frontman Ben Gibbard quit his boozing ways and got hitched to Zooey Deschanel, a woman most self-aware indie hipster types would cite as their preferred Hollywood actress. A positive turn of events for Gibby all but guaranteed that the next Death Cab record would be a less petulant affair, and true to expectations, Codes and Keys happens to be one of the band’s most effervescent, sanguine efforts to date.