If you have listened to Death Cab for Cutie for the past few years, then I bet you are reading this sheepishly. I don’t blame you. It took me a while to summon the strength to push play on Codes and Keys, the four-piece’s sixth LP. One simple question left me perplexed: Who are Death Cab? A decade into their career, the band has released underground lo-fi (Something About Airplanes/We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes), crafty acoustic guitar melodies (The Photo Album/Transatlanticism), piano ballades (Plans), and most recently Narrow Stairs, a melting pot for pretty much everything they have previously tried.
Not knowing what to expect from the album, I took several lazy summer afternoons and listened. And while the album itself is neither spectacular nor terrible, I struggled to focus on individual songs. Looking at Codes and Keys as a whole was more revealing. The album is not depressing, per se, but there is something pensive and sad about it.
Codes and Keys feels distant, as if a gentle haze has descended between the band and the listener. We can still hear Gibbard and Walla writing the same types of songs that they always have, but they seem to be playing on the other side of the curtain. We can hear their old work on the record as St Peter’s Cathedral gives a nod to 03’s Transatlanticsim, Underneath the Sycamore to 05’s Plans, and Doors Unlocked and Open to 08’s Narrow Stairs. However, songs are a tad more relaxed and more introspective. Codes and Keys is not the kind of record that makes me want to jump up and down and buy tickets for the newest tour; rather, it gives me an urge to dig out my old Death Cab CDs and enjoy all the great music that the band has made over the years.
While the album itself may not be great, what it means to a fan of the band is. If you like the band, pick it up. If not, don’t bother.