Death Cab’s “Codes and Keys”

Death Cab’s “Codes and Keys”

Waste of Time
Jun 15, 2011

I’m a huge Death Cab For Cutie fan. I just had to get that off my chest. Ahhh…I feel better now. Ok, sanitary with that said, disinfection I was anxiously awaiting their seventh LP, “Codes and Keys”. Well, it came out at the end of May (2011) and I snatched it up right away. I’ve had it on repeat for a couple of weeks now and feel I’ve soaked it up enough to speak confidently about it’s offering.

Let it be said, that with each album released by an artist, the stakes are increasingly higher. The fans are judging the new work based on the old work and the expectations are higher than the album before. It’s a horrible challenge for artists to live up to, having to “one-up” yourself with every release. While it’s a nuisance, it’s the way it goes. Death Cab For Cutie (DCFC) has had a strong track record. So, let’s take a quick look at their selected discography…

“Narrow Stairs” – Amazing, with a couple of wasted songs.

“Plans” – One of their finest albums. All the songs are exceptional.

“Transatlanticism” – Brilliant, sublime, beautiful.

“The Photo Album” – Great, solid album.

“We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes” – Great album as the band really starts to solidify their sound.

So, with the exception of “Narrow Stairs” having a couple of hiccups, DCFC has consistently met the raised bar that comes with each new project. So, how’s “Codes and Keys”, you ask? Hmmmm…well, I’ll tell ya, I wasn’t sold at first. Upon my initial listen, there were a few songs that blew me away (You’re a Tourist, Under the Sycamore and Doors Unlocked and Opened). Several other songs were really good and then there were some that felt just ok. Ya know? Like, “ya, this is an ok song, but I probably won’t remember it later today”. That said, after ingesting this album for a couple of weeks, I do find myself humming most of the tunes throughout the day. And about 3/4 of the album is definitely solid. But the other quarter, while not bad, is just not that great.

The lyric writing is generally strong as one would expect from Gibbard’s pen. But on the past few records, I found most of the songs had exceptional moments of word-smithing that jumped out and made my heart skip a beat. On “Codes and Keys” there are really only a few songs that rise to that level of exceptional writing. Another shift in the lyricism is story-telling. Previous Death Cab albums were chokful of stories about family and childhood, lovers and loss. Gibbard’s ability to craft deeply poignant stories in a 4 minute song is rare and powerful. Yet, the stories are scarce in “Codes and Keys”. The album suffers for it.

Sonically, I’m torn with this record. You can tell DCFC were being intentional about pushing boundaries with their sound. Certainly there is a more digital/synthy sound. They play with loops and ring-modulators and the like. Much of their previous work is distinctly organic sounding. That sound is still very much alive and well here, but you can tell they’re trying some new things. Some of it works well while other elements make some of the songs sound like demo recordings. Overall, the sound is inconsistent and unsure of itself.

So, while I do like this album and have been eager for more Death Cab, it is certainly their weakest offering in the last ten years. Again, a couple of songs are extraordinary. “You’re a Tourist” is probably in my top 100 songs of all-time…no joke. That song is perfect. But the rest of the album lacks DCFC‘s heightened sense of emotional and intellectual insight. It’s there but just not as clear as in their previous releases. Overall, it’s a good album. But for Death Cab For Cutie, that’s not good enough.

About the Author

Craig the Critic


  1. Love the new site! 🙂 Mr. Beard and I recently picked up this album and I’ve yet to listen to it multiple times to comment intelligently on your review. But your site looks purdy. That is all 🙂

    • Yay! Thanks :)) After you’ve given the album a good listen let me know what you think. Feel free to tell me if I’m insane or not.

Leave a Reply