Monday, May 23, 2011

Death Cab For Cutie: Track by Track Review of Codes and Keys

This has been one of the records I have waited for with great anticipation. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE have left their indie roots behind and ascended into the stratosphere of honest to goodness pop stars. For a long time people have been asking who the heir apparent would be to alternative rock royalty REM, and I think DCFC can lay that claim. Building on the success of "Plans" and "Narrow Stairs", the new record has huge pop hooks and all the musical touches we have come to expect from this Seattle collective. Here are my thoughts on their new album, track by track:

1. Home Is A Fire -- DCFC tend to open each record with a song that starts slow then builds. "Home Is A Fire" may not have the grandeur of "Marching Bands of Manhattan" or "Bixby Canyon Bridge" but it does set the appropriate tone. Ben Gibbard decides to distort his voice as if singing through a megaphone, which makes the lyrics have a detached feel to them

2. Codes and Keys -- The title track is a bluesy piano led song starts to show off the new lyrical sunniness that encapsulates the album. That is not to say that Gibbard has grown out of his over a decade long funk, just that he seems happier in his disposition.

3. Some Boys -- A driving bass and drum opening and the return of the distorted vocals in this paean to immature adolescence. The theme is one that the band has traveled in before and here the observation is that some boys never seem to grow up and that is not necessarily a good thing.

4. Door Unlocked and Open -- A great example of why I love this band. The song takes a great bass line, adds in just enough guitar to make the song interesting and rides the beat the whole way. Gibbard sings it straight up and this could be the cousin to "I Will Posses Your Heart" in tone and feel. Truly breathtaking.

5. You Are A Tourist -- The first single has a great guitar line and sounds as if it was a lost refugee of 70's AM radio. Gibbard's topic of yearning and longing is well traveled but never seems repetitive. It also a sense of positivity that has not always been a Death Cab hallmark.

6. Unobstructed Views -- The opening of this track has a slow beating synth/piano accompaniment that takes it time before finally bringing Gibbard into full view. The song is clearly the centerpiece of the record as he sees love in an unobstructed way for the first time. Whether it was written after he got married is not important, what is significant is how his world view has changed because of it. Though the song never really takes full flight, the message is enough to make it remarkable.

7. Monday Morning -- After three intense songs, the band takes it down a notch with a simple pop song full of fuzzy guitar work that reminds me of some of their earlier work. This has all the feel of a summer song for lazy days and nights.

8. Portable Television -- At first listen this feels like a throwaway. Gibbard takes to the piano here and is met halfway through by a skippy drumbeat. It has a church revival feel to it and when it's stretched out live will be a barnburner I'm sure.

9. Underneath The Sycamore -- This track is the kid sister to either "Sound of Settling" or "Crooked Teeth" in that it is a poppy ode to being different and the same at once. The flourishes of trumpets give it a sunny feel. An unabashed pop song in all it's glory. An earworm for the next week I have not doubt.

10. St. Peter's Catherdral -- Their hasn't been an out and out ballad on the record until now. Unlike the more downtempo "Narrow Stairs" this record has been a lot more upbeat. This song starts out with a stark vocal only arrangement before the drums kick in. Lyrically, it seems to be another in the cannon of what happens after we die, as Gibbard intones that "there is nothing past this". The song builds slowly and takes the back half to find it's place. A sure encore piece for their live show.

11. Stay Young, Go Dancing -- This album has been about finding home, either in the actual place or with the people you love and the closing number is almost like walking through the door of the kitchen after being gone for a long time. A love song in every sense, this track gives us a sense that Gibbard is very content where he is and with the people he loves. It's a fitting ending to a truly breathtaking musical journey.

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