Saturday, June 18, 2011
Album Review: Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (4/5)
A friend of mine recently asked me if I liked The Postal Service (the band, not the government agency), and I said no, and then she asked me if I liked Death Cab for Cutie and I said "of course," to which she replied "you know they're the same guy?" I didn't, although it makes me appreciate the musical talent of the band's singer Ben Gibbard even more that he can make electronic indie pop with one act and indie rock with another that, at least to me, sound pretty different.
I'm not a long-term devotee of the band, although I did enjoy their fifth album, Plans (2005). Codes and Keys has a lighter, less folksy touch than that record, but still possesses a gentle, almost tentative sound that's welcoming in an age of so much musical bombast. Even in its most propulsive moments, the album never goes too. "Codes and Keys" has a layered rock sound with prominent piano and strings, pushing them toward a sound like Arcade Fire's, but not quite as grandiose. "Some Boys" stays in a lush rock vein, although with a more laid back tempo and more emphasis on the guitar. Same with "Underneath the Sycamore," which swells to include guitar, keyboards, drums, strings and horns by the end. Speaking of epic swells, nothing beats "St. Peter's Cathedral," which provides the album's moments of greatest grandeur.
Several songs have long instrumental passages, so long in fact that you almost expect they won't actually be songs. "Doors Unlocked and Open" doesn't introduce its vocals until 1:30 into it. "Unobstructed Views" takes even longer, 3:05! Not that I'm complaining, for these instrumental segments that slowing build the songs melody, allowing for a certain kind of deconstructed approach. It creates a lot of repetition, although I don't mind that. Gibbard can sound a bit like a drama queen at times, like he really should be on a stage and not in the recording studio. That's the sense I get with "Portable Television," which sounds a bit "musical theater" to me.
"Home Is a Fire" has a repetitious, laid-back feel not unlike the electronic music I love by Air or Radiohead in a not-too-weird moment. The album's first single, "You Are a Tourist" has a similar vibe. It's a nice sound: guitar and keyboard rock that gently pulls you in rather than hits you over the head. It's the kind of song you expect could get selected for an iTunes ad. Same for the wistful, acoustic-guitar backed closer "Stay Young, Go Dancing," which is almost too happy for its own good. But if you were a straight guy married to Zooey Deschanel, you'd probably be pretty happy too.
Best: Codes and Keys, You Are a Tourist, Some Boys, Home Is a Fire