'Codes and Keys' Unlocks New Era for DCFC
“We will awake / Only to find / Nothing’s the same,” sing the Washington state based Death Cab for Cutie on the first track of their latest album, Codes and Keys. The band is being hailed by their listeners and by critiques for releasing a successful album in which nothing is musically the same as it used to be.
Death Cab reached acclaim with their releases of Transatlanticism (2003) and Plans (2005). Their next album, Narrow Stairs, continued to utilize similar sounds. The band could easily have continued to play on Ben Gibbard’s boyish soulful voice and their classic indie rock sounds. But in their seventh studio album, Codes and Keys, they’ve discovered new sounds and new motifs. Despite using lyrics from previous albums and similar sounds ("Doors Unlocked and Opened" sounds similar to "We Laugh Indoors," and "Portable Television" sounds similar to songs on The Open Door), the band still manages a departure from the old by inserting new pop sounds and experimental mixes.
Yet on this album, the sounds are heavier, a stark contrast to Gibbard’s other music from his side project, The Postal Service. Whereas The Postal Service uses light, pop sounding music to accentuate Gibbard’s light voice, Codes and Keys plays off of the contrast between Gibbard’s light vocals and musical density. In the third song on the album, "Some Boys," a panting-like sound fills the background, while Gibbard’s vocals echo deeply. “Some boys don’t know how to love / They won’t get what they want,” sings Gibbard, the underlying message being we know how to love, and we will get what we want.
And the band has gotten what they’ve desired. Since its release in May 2011, Codes and Keys has gotten rave reviews for its progressiveness. The hit single You Are a Tourist comes midway through the album: “And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born/ Then it’s time to go” sings Gibbard. The album speaks about departure post loss. After everything burns down, doors are opened, views are unobstructed, and a band and its listeners rebuild and reconstruct. Ultimately, the final song on the album, "Stay Young, Go Dancing" speaks to Death Cab’s ability to remain young and edgy even after a decade of playing together. And although fans would have clamored for the old, there is a refreshing and contemporary feel that comes with the new sounds explored in Codes and Keys.
Perhaps evocative of this contemporary feel is the album artwork, a number sign carved into what appears to be a doormat. Ten years ago, the number sign would have been less significant. But with the onset of Twitter and the hashtag, the number sign is evocative of technology branding us and carving a hole into our doormats, or our homes, creating more space for a new era of music.
The new music is both haunting and easy to listen to. The lyrics are both deep (“when you find yourself the villain/In the story you have written”) and simplistic (“stay young, go dancing”). From the opening chords of Home is a Fire, Codes and Keys is an album that will follow you into the dark and beyond.
Codes and Keys is available at amazon.com and iTunes. DCFC is on tour this fall; tickets are available at deathcabforcutie.com/tour.