Friday, June 3, 2011

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys

You could call me a casual Death Cab For Cutie fan. A few years ago I grabbed a few albums, namely Transatlanticism, Something About Airplanes, and We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes. I really enjoy those albums, as a lot of people do.  But as I said, I'm a pretty casual Death Cab fan. When I looked into their songs from other albums - mostly the two most recent other than this album I'll be reviewing - I was pretty disappointed. So I never bothered to go further than that.
If you somehow don't know, Death Cab For Cutie is a band formed in the late 90's that exploded on the indie scene with their first four albums. After this they signed to a major label and that's when a lot of people fell out with them. I'm not the type to scream "sell out" when a previously independent band goes mainstream, but I do wonder how much their signing to Atlantic had to do with the fall out with some of their fans. Regardless, they certainly still have fans. But Death Cab has always been one of those love them or hate them bands on principal, and a lot of people will continue to just love or hate them on principal with this album.
I listened to this album mostly out of curiosity. As I said, I have a few of their albums but the most recent album I really bothered to give a full listen with them came out in 2003. I wanted to see how their sound had evolved - or not evolved - in those years. Honestly I expected to be pretty underwhelmed by this album. And that's true, partially. On my first listen I remember getting very easily distracted and I stopped it about half way through and barely remembered what I'd heard. However the next day I gave it a more earnest shot, focused more on the music and turned it up a bit and was more pleasantly surprised. And with each listen I found myself getting more and more into it, if only by a bit. But there's nothing ground breaking going on here though, that's for sure. While the Death Cab albums I'm used to were quite depressing and good to listen to on a rainy day with the feeling of heartache, this album has a complete mood change from that. Here I get a big feeling of optimism. Not sure if I'd use the word "upbeat", but definitely optimistic. While older albums were mostly about heartbreak, lost loves, loves that never were and the like, this one is more about the start of a relationship and romantic optimism. This could obviously be linked with the head of the band getting married recently, but I digress. However this still definitely sounds like a Death Cab album, and I'm certainly not going to crucify them for changing their mood, but for casual fans like me and fans of their earlier albums are going to be caught off guard at first. But I say good for them not trying to stick to a niche that's proved to help them get popular. There is a track in here that really reminds me of Transatlanticism though, and that's Unobstructed View, which is definitely my favorite track on the album. Probably just for that reason, it sounds like the Death Cab I love. It's the only track that really takes me back, and while they haven't changed their sound a lot it just seems almost like it's trying too hard to be what it is. It really wants you to like it and is waiting for you to give it compliments. That's how I felt, anyways. It might be because there's quite a bit more production going on here than in previous albums, which a lot of times can give off that "phoney" feeling. There are a lot more subtle electronic manipulations going on here that aren't totally in your face but still seem pretty obvious.
Overall the album is pretty decent. I was expecting to not really like it, but I actually found myself enjoying many moments much more than I thought I would. With that said, I gotta say it still did underwhelm me a bit. While it's pretty enjoyable while you listen, it barely leaves an impression. There are catchy hooks and melodies but once they're gone, they're gone. They won't get stuck in your head and when the album is over you'll likely move on to something else and soon forget about it, but what it does it does pretty well and it's a nice optimistic album I can see being played in cars on people's way to work. And who knows, maybe it will stick with you more than me.

If you like Death Cab, this album at least deserves you give it a shot. I can see a lot of people hating this album though, but I can also see some being pleasantly surprised as I was. If you like or love these guys, while it has it's differences it is still definitely a Death Cab album. And if you hate Death Cab For Cutie on principle, this isn't going to change your opinion. The few that have never heard one of their albums I'd encourage to give the album a listen. Just take it for what it is, forget about how they "sold out". You might end up digging it. Also it's probably worth repeating that I didn't start to enjoy the album at all until my second listen, so it might be the same for you.


Favorite tracks: Codes and Keys, Doors Unlocked and Open, Unobstructed Views


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