Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys [Review]

The seventh studio album for Seattle’s favourite sons, Death Cab For Cutie, was always going to be an interesting one.
Coming off the back of 2008’s Narrow Stairs – a record which, despite leaving some hardcore fans scratching their heads, saw the band’s slow and steady rise finally yield a number one spot on America’s billboard chart – Codes and Keys has a few big questions to answer; Chiefly, can it cement their place in the mainstream whilst winning back those fans whose noses were so put out of joint by it’s predecessor?

The answer is no, not really.
The same people that complained about them ‘selling out’ with their last record (not helped by an appearance on the New Moon soundtrack) will be voicing the same concerns this time around.

This is not to say that this is a bad record. Very far from it, in fact.
And it does seem as if they have at least attempted to appease the disgruntled among their fan base.
This record touches on just about every stage of their career, without sitting comfortably within any of them. And I do mean every stage of their career – including solo records and side projects.

Opener ‘Home Is A Fire’ for example, with it’s pulsing bass and electronic fuzz coating Ben Gibbard’s vocal, would actually tuck in quite nicely on Give Up – the album by Gibbard’s one time side project The Postal Service – where as the excellent ‘Underneath The Sycamore’ could easily have featured on 2005’s Plans.

‘Some Boys’, a nod to the misbehaving young men of the world, and the wonderful ‘Doors Unlocked And Open’ are both immediate and expansive enough to keep the mainstream happy while that guitar riff on ‘You Are A Tourist‘ is infectious enough to keep anyone interested.

Elswhere, with it’s gradual piano intro, ‘Unobstructed Views’ sounds like an older, more mature cousin of ‘Transatlanticism’ in it’s simplistic, sparse beauty and closer ‘Stay Young, Go Dancing’ has the kind of wispy melody that Elliott Smith once mastered.

Maybe the most noticeable admission from this record is Gibbard’s trademark, poetic lyrics. Who can forget the beautiful little snippets of stories he let us into with songs like ‘Styrofoam Plates‘ and ‘Passenger Seat‘?
Unfortunately he seems to have opted to replace the subtleties and simple charm with a grander, more accessible style.
Perhaps the one exception being ‘Monday Morning’, an ode to Zooey Deschanel, on which he sings ‘She may be young but she only likes old things / And modern music, it ain’t to her taste / she loves a natural light / captured in black and white.’
It is classic Gibbard and the song certainly benefits for it.

You could argue perhaps that DCFC have tried too hard to please everybody with this record, and as a result it can, at times feel a little disjointed.
It certainly doesn’t feel as natural and as seamless as The Photo Album or Transatlanticism.

However, like with all DCFC records, patience is a virtue. Give Codes and Keys enough listens and it becomes a very rewarding record.
It grows on you.
Like a fungus – a beautiful, melodic fungus.

-David Tinkler

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