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4.2 out of 5 stars
Codes and Keys
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2011
In 2005, Death Cab For Cutie made a move that, according to some, was the biggest mistake of their career; they switched from indie label Barsuk to Atlantic. Whether or not this is true, many indie bands have experienced backlash from fans from making such moves; just ask former indie darling Liz Phair and to a much lesser degree, Modest Mouse. Death Cab frontman, Ben Gibbard, however, could not be less concerned with such an issue. In the current issue of Spin magazine, he stated, "Some people were like, `I'll never buy their records again.' Good, don't buy our records! If the only reason you listened to our band is that we're on an indie label, that's totally ridiculous."

Certainly the last two major label releases from Death Cab were not bad records. They were a step down from the classic We Have the Facts And We're Voting Yes and Transatlanticism albums, but would another indie release have been able to hold its ground with those records anyway? Plus, a lot has changed for Gibbard since those recordings. He has stopped drinking, started running, and married musician/actress Zooey Deschanel. In short, Gibbard is, dare I say, happy. So has all of this affected the overall sound of Death Cab For Cutie on their seventh proper album (and third for Atlantic), Codes And Keys? Yes and no.

First of all, if you are looking for the saddening, heartbreaking lyrics you have come to expect, you may find yourself slightly disappointed. Gone are the, "I will hold a candle up to you to singe your skin. Brace yourself: I'm bent with bitterness," and the, "Yeah, you are beautiful but you don't mean a thing to me" lyrics. Now, the band encourages you not to let sadness overcome you. In "You Are A Tourist," Gibbard suggests, "When there's a burning in your heart and you think it'll burst apart, oh, there's nothing to fear. Save the tears. Save the tears." In fact, the album ends with, "Oh how I feel alive and through winters advancing we'll stay young go dancing." Whereas happy lyrics are certainly not a bad thing, if your heart is set on alcohol drenched suffering, the album may not make the delivery you're hoping for.

Sonically, if you thought this might be a return to the lo-fi Something About Airplanes days, once again, you might find yourself in want. The sound of the record is definitely Death Cab and most of the songs have the piano/guitar marriage you've come to expect. Vocally, Gibbard is unmistakable as ever. "Unobstructed Views" has slight "Transatlanticism" feel to it with its piano that continues to softly build as the song progresses through its 6+ minutes. "Doors Unlocked And Open" begins with an minute and half intro jam reminiscent of 2008's "I Will Possess Your Heart." Songs such as, "Codes And Keys," "Some Boys," and "Monday Morning" possess the traditional Death Cab mid tempo beats that warrant a foot tapping here and there.

Overall, this album is not dramatically different from Plans and Narrow Stairs; however, it is very much able to stand its own ground. In fact, Codes And Keys could have just as easily followed The Photo Album and Transatlanticism as well, if not better than Plans did. If you've come to embrace the band's more polished and produced sound and don't mind a set of happy lyrics, you will do just fine with this album. If you are still hoping for a return the late 90s and early 2000s, maybe you should just skip this one and give an earlier Death Cab LP a spin.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Death Cab for Cutie do dramatic emotionalism better than just about any American Band working this turf today. Gloomy Guy Ben Gibbards still sings like a depressed teenage poet, and the rest of the band swirl behind him in a vortex of murk. "Codes and Keys" maintains the forward thinking experimentation of 2008's "Narrow Stairs," but you're still going to recognize these songs as Death Cab as soon as you hear them.

What "Codes and Keys" does do is push harder for atmosphere. The guitars are pushed back in the production to make way for webs of synthesizers and echoing keyboards. When it works, like on "Doors Unlocked and Open," you start wondering if DCFC has been poking around the Eno or Roxy Music albums. But when the decide to let guitars run the song ("You Are a Tourist," the best song here), it makes you wish they would have spent a bit more time on "Codes and Keys" being straightforward. Something they do at the album's closing, "Stay Young, Go Dancing," perhaps the first time the band has ever recorded a genuine love song.

This is easily the most convoluted production the band (and long time producer Chris Walla) have ever attempted. Ben Gibbard, in particular, is processed through all sorts of effects, not always to his benefit. The musical experimentation that led to things like the extended opening to "I Will Possess Your Heart" or the gentle "Grapevine Fires" is replaced by more atmosphere and studio gimmickry. "Codes and Keys" is still a fine album, maybe even more Postal Service than DCFC, and I hope the pull the reins back towards simplicity for the next album.
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47 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2011
I saw Death Cab in '06 at the Cradle in Carrboro, NC. Since then I've been a big fan and followed their music closely. I was really excited to listen to Codes And Keys, but unsure of what to expect after reading the Spin mag article where Gibbard said the new cd would reflect where he is in life. He's emotionally matured and put his hard-partying days behind. In a nutshell, he stopped drinking and married actress Zooey Deschanel.

I've listened to the the cd streaming for the last week and I'm glad to report Gibbard's life may have changed, but the music is just as good as it's always been. I'll admit the cd is a departure from the band's typical fare. Usually I think Death Cab and I think of somber or dark songs like "I Will Possess Your Heart" from Narrow Stairs. This isn't the case with this cd, which is less melancholy than previous albums. In past albums Death Cab's fantastic guitar work has been front and center. With this cd, the band has taken their original guitar sound and enhanced it. I love the prominent addition of piano as well as electronics, in particular the song "Home Is A Fire." The band even adds a string section in "Codes and Keys."
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Gibbard took experiences from his collaborative electronic work with Postal Serivce/Dntel and injected his own take on electronic music into this DCFC album. This cd grabbed my attention quickly and each listen reveals more depth and meaning of the songs. The band is growing up, but not showing its age. This album is bold, beautifully produced and a must purchase for any DCFC fan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2013
It's hard to keep this album off of constant rotation. It's nothing groundbreaking, but DCFC knows how to write songs, period.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2011
For me, DCFC is pretty hit or miss: there's more miss than hit on this album. I bought it mainly for the single "You Are a Tourist," thinking that, like their other CDs I have, I'd love more than half the album once I heard it. Not so much. Of all their work, "Plans" is still my favorite. I'm just not that crazy about this album. "You Are a Tourist" is so good, though, it makes it worthwhile to explore some of their other, less mainstream-sounding music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2013
Although this album may not hold as close a place in my heart as some of their earlier work and isn't as memorable as Narrow Stairs, It's still a great album overall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2012
There are some albums where you can only find one or two good songs and the overall flow of the music combined is off. Not this album. I drive an hour each way to school and like to listen to whole albums on the road. This is one I downloaded a long time ago and only really listened to the popular songs. But I was looking for a good album one day before I got in my car and saw this. I pressed play and was immersed in one of the most unified collections of music I had discovered in a while. My top picks from the album are Some Boys, Underneath the Sycamore, Home is a Fire, and my favorite, Doors Unlocked and Open. Great album. I'm not a hardcore DCFC fan but it is definitely a great piece of art.

PS- If you like death cab, try listening to the Postal Service. Same singer, different direction. Another great album.
Give Up
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2011
Sorry for my strange title to this review, but that's what exactly i felt listening to Code and Keys on IPOD and the headsets on.....I have all other albums by DCFC in my shelf and Codes and Keys is the latest entrant. Many have talked about the transition in their sound in this latest album, but I feel, the album's as great as their previous offerings. I shall highly recommend this album to anybody who appreciates good, quality music, not necessarily being a DCFC fan. Great song writing, elegant tunes and instrumentation comprising of guitars, synth and nice beats and vocals, the album has every hallmark of the DCFC sound, particularly from their 'Transatlanticism' fame, the song 'tiny vessels' is my favourite from that album.........talking of Codes and Keys, be surprised by the song Home is a Fire, its a classic, You're a Tourist is already a hit and well known, but check out 'Under the Sycamore'. and I can assure you, the rest of the tracks are equally good too. There is a subtle beauty in being melancholy, that's where the best sound comes out, as is evident from their earlier fares, but this album is a balance between being cute and dead...........so, sit back, spin the disc, and enjoy :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2011
My review is coming from the context of not being a Death Cab fan. In fact, while having heard of them, I had never heard any of their music before. So I didn't have any expectations coming in to this album. It took a few listens to warm up to it, but I think this is a really great album, well worth purchasing. The songwriting is spectacular. They are using some 80's sounds like everyone else these days, but they digest them and own the sounds. It doesn't sound forced or ironic. I'm not the type to listen to the same thing over and over, but this has been in quite constant rotation; I go to switch the album and I think "oh, well maybe I listen to Codes and Keys one more time".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2011
Death Cab for Cutie has gone through a R.E.M. type of development. From small and slightly scruffy to well crafted indie pop songs. From a mediocre post-grunge group they became one of alternative rock's shining beacons. Codes & Keys is their New Adventures In Hi-Fi: an album that goes into a new direction but not one that's immediately a better directions. Granted, Codes & Keys still has some songs that are instant indiedisco hits like "You Are A Tourist" with it's incredible guitar riff. But in songs like "Doors Unlocked and Open" a certain something is missing. Were Gibbard and consorts always able to touch some emotion , the steady beat and staccato guitar leading into to a halfbaked chorus gives us nothing lasting. The aforementioned "You Are A Tourist, the steady and mellow "Monday Morning", jumpy "Portable Televion" end closer "Stay Young, Go Dancing" fortunately lift the album slightly above the mediocre music coming out these days, but DTFC have for now lost touch with indie rock teens.
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