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Death Cab For Cutie – Codes & Keys

Death Cab For Cutie, Codes and Keys

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

SO OFTEN we write about big British bands who fail to carry that fame over the Atlantic to America. Well, Death Cab For Cutie are the opposite: a huge American act who, thus far, haven’t enjoyed the UK success their quality merits.

Seven albums in and that quality hasn’t diminished, even if their sound continues to evolve. As is the way with a lot of bands of late (and Bell X1 most recently), Codes & Keys drops the guitar sound more synonymous with their success in favour of a more electronic approach.

That’s not to say the guitars have gone completely, but the onus is on a fresher sound complete with production values from Alan Moulder (of Jesus & Mary Chain/Nine Inch Nails fame). The result is immediately striking and every bit as addictive as Death Cab’s best material.

There are several immediate highlights. Title track Codes & Keys is a belter, merging Ben Gibbard’s distinct, ethereal vocals over some eastern strings that could have been taken from the opening track of the last Bonobo record. It’s beautiful and mesmerising and evidence of the electronics thriving.

In contrast, the driving riffs and propulsive bass of Doors Unlocked And Open immediately grip, providing a thrilling bedding for some more of those haunted vocals, which drift between edgy and falsetto in effortless fashion. It’s a stadium-filling moment that should serve them well when supporting Foo Fighters at Milton Keynes later this summer and it could even appeal to UK fans of Radiohead.

Former single You Are A Tourist, which saw the band making history by live streaming the filming of their one take, scripted accompanying music video, is also great… a cracking riff being set against lively drums and a more optimistic, even breezy vibe. Think Sigur Ros coming over all pop and borrowing riffs from Coldplay and you may have an idea of what to expect! And yes, there’s even a strong electronic undercurrent that further embellishes the production values.

In contrast to the radio friendly sound of that single is Unobstructed Views, an atmospheric piano-based number that boasts a cinematic sweep during its lengthy opening. It’s almost a shame when Gibbard’s vocals intrude… but even then the track takes on an ethereal beauty that marks it out as another highlight (although different in tone).

Monday Morning picks up the tempo once again to deliver an alternatively breezy reflection on the beginning of the week (the antithesis of both the The Boomtown Rats’ and The Bangles more downbeat reflections on the day) and Portable Television boasts a genuinely expansive sound that wraps up drums, synths and pianos to stadium-filling levels of satisfaction, complete with melodic harmonising.

It’s a measure of Death Cab For Cutie’s appeal, however, that they can deftly mix reflective and even sombre moments of ethereal magic with more broad and lively crowd-pleasers that ought to appeal to everyone. Although, with Codes & Keys, the emphasis leans more towards a broader, more vibrant approach.

Underneath The Sycamore, for instance, contains guitar hooks that would grace a U2 album with the piano melodies of Keane and a falsetto driven chorus that aspires to Coldplay’s Chris Martin delivery. And yet, the overall sound is resolutely Death Cab For Cutie’s, right down to a warped electronic trombone sounding effect midway through, to enliven the obligatory guitar solo. It’s just effortlessly good.

The final two songs, meanwhile, underline the diversity of their song-writing and accompanying composition. St Peter’s Cathedral begins in stripped back form and takes some warming to, but slowly comes to beautiful life with thoughtful shots of synth underpinning the vocals. The second half of the song is enchanting.

Likewise, the finale, Stay Young, Go Dancing, which drops sunshine harmonies, lush acoustic arrangements and even subtle string arrangements to guarantee you depart the album in a romantic, feel-good mood… and pining to hear it all over again.

Like we’ve been suggesting all review, it’s damn near a masterpiece.

Watch the video for You Are A Tourist

Download picks: Codes and Keys, Doors Unlocked and Open, You Are A Tourist, Unobstructed Views, Underneath The Sycamore, Stay Young, Go Dancing

Track listing:

  1. Home Is A Fire
  2. Codes & Keys
  3. Some Boys
  4. Doors Unlocked and Open
  5. You Are A Tourist
  6. Unobstructed Views
  7. Monday Morning
  8. Portable Television
  9. Underneath the Sycamore
  10. St Peter’s Cathedral
  11. Stay Young, Go Dancing