Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Music Review: Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys”

★1/2

I’ve always been a been of a bit of anti-purist when it comes to Death Cab for Cutie, preferring the albums that others perceived as average and shrugging off what the so-called true fans may regard as Death Cab perfection. Case in point, my favorite Death Cab album is “Plans”…so yeah, there it is, I said it. You wouldn’t want to read my reviews if all I did was parrot the other reviewers though, would you? To that end I think that “Transatlanticism” is fantastic, but I usually cherry pick single tracks, and I thought that “Narrow Stairs” was good as well, but time hasn’t been kind to that album’s play count. Of course my true favorite Ben Gibbard work is Postal Service, which is why I was excited to hear that this new album would be less guitar-centric. Aside from marrying the heavenly Zooey Deschanel, nothing Gibbard has ever done is quite as impressive as “Such Great Heights”, an aptly named song for how amazing it is.

On “Codes and Keys” we see an album fairly similar to “Narrow Stairs” in terms of overall consistency, but it’s high are higher, and that makes for a better album. The other major turn here is towards optimism, a term seldom applied to the nostalgic Death Cab. But on the two best tracks, “Codes and Keys” and “You are a Tourist” Gibbard’s voice soars as he sings “we are alive” and “if there’s a burning in your heart, let it grow”. I, for one, think it’s a refreshing turn for a band so late in their career. It only makes sense to sing happy songs after marring Zooey, I imagine. The songs soar for more reasons than just optimism, though. "You are a Tourist”, drenched in reverb-soaked echo, Death Cab’s best guitar hook yet, and Gibbard’s lyrics, challenges some of their best work ever. It’s infectious, inspirational, and sonically wonderful all at once, and represents a truly complete package. They also transition well between the sonically pleasing (“Doors Unlocked and Open”, “Unobstructed Views”) where the sounds are best captured with headphones and closed eyes, and the sunny, windows-rolled-down vibe of “Some Boys” or “Underneath of Sycamore”. This comes together best on “St. Peter’s Cathedral”, a simple starter that grows into a fully developed electronic orchestra, complete with the perfect concert-ready baddum-tada-bums over heavy string synth.

It’s not perfect, however much I wish it was. “Monday Morning” and “Portable Television” are flat out forgettable, and however much I want to like the toe-tapping folk-flavored “Stay Young, Go Dancing”, to me it sounds too much like an average Decemberists song helped only by some interesting string and piano insertions. It' doesn’t kill the overall product, but the weak spots hold it back somewhat. It is a thoroughly enjoyable product that is certain not to disappoint any fan. Oh, and fan or not, downloading “You are a Tourist” is the best 99 cents you can spend right now.

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