THUNDER BAY – The seventh studio album by Death Cab For Cutie illustrates that you can make weird into cool. While Ben Gibbard fronted Death Cab has always walked their own path, “Codes and Keys” takes a much different approach to the previous offering, “Narrow Stairs”. The former had a decisively more rock experience than “Codes”, and yet I found myself drawn more to the more contemplative and melodious new album.
As a rule I get around to hearing new DCFC albums within about a week of their release. “Codes and Keys” launched May 31st, but having intentionally ignored news and entertainment websites for the past several weeks, it took me a while to discover this little gem. I’m glad I did.
The first song Home is a Fire is a peculiar choice given its mild percussive and placid feel, but then again this is not a band that is known for following trends. In some ways it actually made the rest of the album very alive. I find Doors Unlocked and Open to be one of my favourite tracks, with its upbeat riff and steady beat. This leads directly into the hit single You Are a Tourist which (for those who haven’t heard Death Cab) musically reminded me of something between The Cure and The Killers but with Gibbard’s trademark soothing vocals.
If there is one notable change beyond the step away from the indie rock sound of last album, it is the lyrics in “Codes” which I found the most interesting. Since “Narrow Stairs”, Gibbard married actress & musician Zooey Deschanel, and he seems to have found a new relaxed feel to his song writing. To me his lyrics feel more comfortable, as though he has a better sense of identity. That said it’s still weird and quirky, and I mean that in a good way.
If I could put forward any criticism of this album it would be that if felt a smidgen short to me, at what seemed to be around 45 minutes. Mind you, that is a far better “problem” than if the album had been too lengthy. I don’t really see it as a huge shortcoming, but just an observation.
Death Cab has always struck me as sort of a North American version of Radiohead, a band not afraid to be different and still make enough of a splash to rattle the mainstream. “Codes and Keys” is new and fresh, yet still so obviously Death Cab. Having sold over 150,000 copies already, Gibbard and company have still very much got what it takes to keep me a fan. If you’ve never listened to Death Cab For Cutie, I strongly encourage you to check this one out. Don’t let the name fool you; they are much easier on the ears than my band would be.
(Scott is a local musician and can be found on stage performing vocals, synthesizers and programming with the industrial band Dead Romantic.)