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Album Review – Death Cab’s Codes & Keys

June 3, 2011

To me, Death Cab’s music has always exuded the area where the band was from, Seattle, Washington. I had listened to Death Cab for a few years prior to the first time I visited Seattle, and the second I arrived I understood that Death Cab and Seattle were essentially one in the same. All of the stereotypical elements of the city (coffee shops, rain, the Puget Sound, it’s overall rich history) seemed to me as if they existed in Death Cab’s songs. I loved that about them, because any band that can capture the feeling of a beautiful city like Seattle is quite impressive in my book.

Fast forward a few years, and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab’s frontman) does the unthinkable; he moves to L.A.! Next, he gets married the Hollywood (and She & Him) heartthrob Zooey Deschanel! Most anticipated that such major changes would likely effect Death Cab’s music, seeing as Ben writes a majority of the bands music. It did.

Codes and Keys is an L.A. album. In the same way that The Photo Album and Transatlantacism take me to the streets of Seattle, Codes and Keys brings me to L.A. Is that a good thing? That will probably depend on who’s listening. Death Cab has often been described as whining, mopey, somber, etc., and I absolutely love that about them. Their songs have always had an edge, and usually touch on deep feelings of emotion (often times sadness). Their last album, Narrow Stairs, was altogether pretty dark, but that was actually my favorite thing about it. With Codes and Keys, however, the California sun broke through the Seattle clouds, and the entire album is much more upbeat and electronic because of that.

Another complaint is the production level of the album. Ben Gibbard’s right-hand man, Chris Walla, is in fact an accomplished producer, with a repertoire including Tegan and Sara, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of State, and of course all the Death Cab albums. Codes and Keys, unfortunately, often feels overproduced. In many of the songs there are more sounds going on then you can wrap your head around, and this too interestingly seems to mirror the departure from Seattle grittiness in favor of L.A.’s plasticity.

That’s not to say the album isn’t enjoyable, because it is. The latter tracks are especially better then the first few, and the album as a whole is a fun listening experience. When it all comes down to it, it’s Death Cab. They make great music. Although this is by far one of their weakest efforts, it’s still a fun summery album, which may just be the point.

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