UCO360 Album Review: Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie

First Posted: May 31st, 2011

Codes and Keys

By Death Cab for Cutie


Release Date

May 31, 2011








Codes and Keys? Ooooooh-la-la! This should be an album full of cryptic abstraction that unwinds with repeated listens–right? Nope. In fact the album for the most part feels like being tethered to a splintered chair in a waiting room, where the next-in-line bell keeps chiming, but you never arrive.

Death Cab’s last album brimmed with haunting wild fire aftermath(“Grapevine Fires”), creep love (“I Will Possess Your Heart”), and nods to Beat writers (“Bixby Canyon Bridge”). Narrow Stairs will probably not go down as Death Cab’s cornerstone album, but it contained a bittersweet wisdom in its hyper-literacy. The album gleamed with promise for a new direction for the band. Codes and Keys certainly delivers on the promise, but not the direction most fans would expect.

Frontman Ben Gibbard’s songcraft matured with his listeners. For the most part Death Cab have garnered respectable reviews and held an extremely dedicated fan base. On Codes and Keys, it seems the wisdom dissolved, the musical arrangements lag sophomoric, and the shameless pop sensibilities have spiked.

Death Cab For Cutie- You Are A Tourist

The first curve ball to land is the trance-y percussion. Nearly every track jogs to straightforward, ultra-repetitive percussion. The next noticeable change attaches itself to Ben Gibbard’s vocals. The producer got a little over zealous with the echo effect on Gibbard’s voice. And the third biggest departure is the shift from guitar-driven tracks to piano jaunts. The keys compliment Gibbard’s natural voice well, and give the album an optimism other Death Cab albums lacked.

Death Cab’s latest single, “You Are a Tourist” drips with sugary sentiment, “When there’s a burning in your heart, let it grow”. When kitsch songwriting gives you a headache, find aspirin.

Most of the tracks cling tightly to standard pop formula–so, if that is what you are looking for in an album, Codes and Keys will

Death Cab for Cutie Frontman, Ben Gibbard

serve as a fun listen.

The only break from the standard songwriting lies halfway through the disc. “Unobstructed Views” boasts lush keyboards, a long, unusual intro, and a dreamier lyric than the other tracks.

Whether Gibbard and company aim to grab a new bunch of fans or if they’ve just found a new lightheartedness, their new disc lacks striking moments of both musical dynamics and emotional intelligence.

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