By Al Kaufman
Thanks to iTunes and other sites, the concept of the album is all but gone. Bands still release CDs, but they are just afterthoughts. They put their “reach out and grab you” song first, usually something a bit different as the third or fourth track, and then fill the rest with slight variations on their theme, also known as filler. With Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie, indie rock gods of the ’90s, have created an album in the true sense of the word.
Codes and Keys does not grab you at first listen. It slowly builds and grows. It seeps into hard to reach corners and holds on tight, until, unfortunately, the experience is over. There is no filler here. There are only lovingly crafted pop songs from the mind and pen of Benjamin Gibbard. Now 34 and happily married to actress Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard has called Codes and Keys his “mature” album. Indeed, there is lots of happiness on this record. “We’ll live in slow motion and be free/With doors unlocked and open,” he sings. It is a profoundly uplifting declaration of love. “Unobstructed Views,” with lines like, “There’s no eye in the sky/Just our love,” is just as unabashedly romantic. Gibbard ends the CD with the optimistic advice, “stay young, go dancing.” This is a man enjoying life so much right now that he may need to change the band’s name to Love Cab for Cutie.
While Gibbard told Filter Magazine that he was an “indoctrinated Catholic,” he also admitted he hadn’t been to church in many years. He seems to play with ideas of atheism. The aforementioned verse from “Unobstructed Views” hints at no God. “St. Peter’s Cathedral” is more blatant in its message. It begins with “St. Peter’s Cathedral built of granite but ever fearful of the answer.” Gibbard then struggles to understand the meaning of it all before concluding, “There’s nothing past this.” Yet he presents his thought process beautifully, like a man who is at peace with his ultimate realization.
Musically, Codes and Keysis a bit of a departure for Death Cab. The pretty guitars have given way to more electronica and piano. It takes some getting used to, especially on the beat heavy “Doors Unlocked and Open.” “You Are a Tourist”even has a bit of a New Order flair to it. “Unobstructed Views” has an extended organ intro, which leads into a wistful melody that stays just to the left of New Age. And the irony is not lost when Gibbard sings “She may be young but she only likes old things/And modern music ain’t to her tastes” over electronic beats on “Monday Morning.”
But Gibbard’s melodies are so strong that they are only complimented by the synthetic beats. There is not a song on here that will not stick with the listener for many hours after. Yes, “Monday Morning” and “Portable Television” borrow a bit too heavily from earlier Death Cab songs, but there is enough new and interesting stuff on here to know that Gibbard is not resting on his indie laurels. He may be happy and content, but he is still gifted as hell.