Year of the Album — #032
Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys” (2011, Atlantic Records)
For an album that was recorded in eight different studios, Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys, the band’s seventh studio album, comes off sounding incredibly concise and unburdened by pretension. The album, inspired by Brian Eno’s Another Green World, is very keyboard centered, which makes these songs the band’s most easily digestible confections in years.
The band’s focus on keyboards gives the songs a common musical tone, and Ben Gibbard has jettisoned the dark, self-loathing tone of Narrow Stairs, focusing instead on coming back down to earth and focusing on self redemption. And though many of these songs were reportedly developed first as musical sketches by Chris Walla, with Gibbard adding lyrics and vocals after hearing the original compositions, these don’t sound like square pegs fitted through round holes. Instead, it finally sounds like Death Cab has turned a corner, the band members’ individual contributions merging cohesively to form some of the most hummable songs the band’s yet produced.
Though all the songs are in their own way catchy and memorable, it’s hard to imagine many of the songs heating up radio, which continues to live off of disposable trends rather than solid music. But Codes and Keys is Death Cab for Cutie’s strongest full album since Plans. This is an album which will please long-time fans of the band while building word of mouth support from the newly converted as well. The album proves Death Cab for Cutie is fully capable of surviving in today’s musical climate, continuing to craft interesting melodic pop albums long into the future, come what may. In today’s disposable pop climate, that’s something worth celebrating.