The indie band Death Cab for Cutie is known for releasing albumsthat appeal to the senses. Front man Benjamin Gibbard writes songs with beautifulimagery and catchy melodies.
From the band’s earliest attempts to their morerecent Plans and Narrow Stairs, DeathCab’s music has captured the joys and sorrows of everyday life, turning themundane into a poetic and nostalgic experience for the listener.
Not so with the band’s most recent effort, Codes and Keys. Earlier thisyear, Gibbard told SPIN the newrecord would be reminiscent of Brian Eno’s AnotherGreen World and “not guitar based.” The statement is dead on. The album isladen with keyboards and experimental vocals, breaking from the guitar heavy,straightforward pop tunes of records past.
What we have with Codes is a dull record, experimentallyboring and emotionally detached. What could have been an interesting departurefrom the band’s signature sound is an album of filler songs with uninterestinglyrical content, distant and canny-sounding vocals and undeveloped melodicstructure.
Codes opens withthe spacey, experimental “Home is a Fire.” One immediately notices the lack of ChrisWalla’s guitar that is so present in songs like “I Will Possess Your Heart” and“Little Bribes.” Gibbard’s vocals are laden with effects and sound hollow anddry, not at all resembling the rich and pleasant tone we are used to hearing.
The album’s title track is next. “Codesand Keys” is a piano based track, augmented by a string section throughout.It’s a neat concept, but what is the song about? Gibbard replaces histhoughtful lyric writing with generalizations like, “You’re on the floor,fearful of what’s outside your door”.
Unfortunately, the same trendcontinues throughout the album: loose, melodically uninteresting tunes,complimented by unpleasant vocal arrangements and cliché lyrics. The first singlefrom the album, “You Are a Tourist,” begins optimistically with a guitar riffreminiscent of “Cath” (from NarrowStairs), but soon fades into the dull void that is Codes when Gibbard sings, “When there’s a burning in your heart,and you think it’ll burst apart.”
The same is true with the last track on the album. “StayYoung, Go Dancing” reminds us why we love Death Cab in the first place—completewith effect-free vocals and a structure similar to “A Diamond and a Tether”from the band’s most recent EP, The OpenDoor. But again, true substance is missing from the song and we are leftempty-handed as the record comes to a close.
Codes and Keyssounds like a Death Cab album, but not the Death Cab we know and love. Rather,the album takes on the feel of a distant cousin; true Death Cab fans may notknow what to do with it.
Before the release of the album, Gibbard told SPIN: “I'mso proud of this album that at this point I don't care if people don't likeit." A noble statement made by a true artist, perhaps, but one must wonderwhy the fans and critics aredisappointed this time around.
The best we can hope for is that this album will grow on us,but until then, people searching for great music by the band would be betteroff starting with a record like Plans.