Music Reviews
Codes and Keys

Death Cab for Cutie Codes and Keys

(Atlantic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

Death Cab for Cutie have made a career out of lyrics, song titles and album names that scream “I take myself way too seriously and I’m indie as fuck.” This is a cheap path to perceived authenticity and forcing your way into that weird indie/mainstream world. Songwriter and vocalist Ben Gibbard has been shoving wordy, cloy and overwrought lyrics down our throats for over a decade now, and it’s high time for a change. Luckily, Codes and Keys partially delivers.

The songwriting is less self-obsessed and annoying, leaving the album to focus on a more musically evolved Death Cab; he still throws around cleverly worded but painfully obvious observations on life (You Are a Tourist stands out, he waxes on alienation in a familiar environment). They spend much of the record eschewing standard song structures for a gradual build, which offers a massive payoff on some songs. Doors Unlocked and Open comes to mind as a highlight and is a shining example of their improved writing. The band even sounds a little happy. They lightly experiment throughout most of the album. It’s quite ingenious; they change enough to capture some interest but never enough to alienate any fans. Some Boys pulls in a pulsing bass synth and takes cues from Strawberry Jam era Animal Collective, and the title track’s wandering, sliding strings are enthralling.

Despite the occasional flashes of brilliance, Codes and Keys often feels like a half assed attempt at innovation. They experiment without taking any real risks, and I can’t help but wonder what could have been had they taken some real leaps. Portable Television feels particularly underdone, and it ends up sounding like a thinly veiled takeoff on The Antlers Two. The album generally fades in the stretch, and ideas that were new to the Death Cab universe sound tired by the last few songs. They routinely fall back into a business as usual pattern, especially on Underneath the Sycamore and St. Peters Cathedral.

Overall, Codes and Keys is an improvement. It might be a little dull at times, but it’s got plenty of sneakily catchy vocal melodies and features a band that still has growth left in them. A lot of their aggravating pretensions have been downplayed. There are plenty of good moments, but there are just as many mediocre ones. Codes and Keys is their best album since Transatlanticism and offers some much needed evolution. It’s occasionally business as usual, but at least it adds some much needed intrigue to previous works of boredom.