Death Cab for Cutie

Codes and Keys

Atlantic

May 30, 2011 #36 - Music vs. Comedy Bookmark and Share


Find It At: Codes And KeysAmazon | Insound

Perfection is the goal for Death Cab for Cutie. One listen to its seventh album, Codes and Keys, reveals a band as conscious as ever of the power of the studio. Each song has been so meticulously gone over that all the rough edges have been sanded off. For many bands, those small mistakes and uneven moments are where the magic lies. For Death Cab, however, the magic is calculated and sometimes these two elements—magic and hard work—are at odds. Especially since Codes and Keys feels more even-handed than their last two efforts, Narrow Stairs or Plans. It's not surprising, then, that the pleasures of Codes and Keys take a few listens to reveal themselves. 

Codes and Keys has some breathtaking moments, like the slow-burn opening of "Unobstructed Views" or the luscious "St. Peter's Cathedral." "Doors Unlocked and Open" takes the most aggressive stance, as Nick Harmer's insistent bass builds a tension broken only by a momentary shift in the treatment of Ben Gibbard's vocals from distorted to clean. The opening "Home is a Fire" couples Gibbard's gentle voice with thoughtful, unhurried guitars and pits them against machine gun percussion led by Jason McGerr's spectacular drumming. The tension makes the song fly, but this is the type of thing that takes a while to understand or even notice; Death Cab's magic occurs when the listener begins to understand how many different elements and strands are being woven together, when the rivets and seams, which have been carefully hidden, are exposed, and the care becomes apparent.

One standout track, "You Are a Tourist," makes it clear why Codes and Keys, while a fine album, doesn't quite stand up to Death Cab for Cutie's best work: it's Gibbard. The band sounds great, with Chris Walla's stuttering guitar leading the way and McGerr and Harmer creating a formidable rhythm. The lyrics, however, fail to capture much attention. On previous albums, Gibbard hid his venom and jealousy behind his catchy choruses and dulcet tones. The lyrics themselves, though, were sharp as knives. "You Are a Tourist" is filled with clichéd platitudes that ruin an otherwise fine song. "When there's a burning in your heart/An endless yearning in your heart/Build it bigger than the sun," Gibbard sings. It's strange that the one element of Death Cab's work that one doesn't usually worry about-perhaps the most recognizable element at that-is the only one that doesn't have the same planned-out, fretted-over, and perfected feeling as the rest of Codes and Keys. (http://www.deathcabforcutie.com)

 

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