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Codes and Keys

Codes and Keys

May 27, 2011
4.3 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Codes and Keys
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Product Details

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: MP3 Music
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.
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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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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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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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