New Music Tuesday: Codes and Keys

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Before I get into the actual review of this now more than a month old album, I need to explain my complicated relationship with Death Cab for Cutie. My first encounter with this painfully hipster-titled band was back in 2006, and my first semester of college. A friend of mine turned me on to them with a single song; The Sound of Settling. I was so curious, that I bought DCFC's newest album at the time, Plans, and gave it a good listening too. Plans almost immediately captured me with its mellow music and contemplative lyrics, both empowered by Ben Gibbard's emo-hipster Siren's call. I was a fan. Well, that's what I thought at least. Not long after Plans, I bought the album from Gibbard's side project, The Postal Service (of Such Great Heights fame), which served to reinforce my fandom of Gibbard and DCFC.

So, at this point, you probably think that my upcoming review (be patient!) of Codes and Keys is going to be skewered toward a positive light. It won't. You see, I loved Plans and Postal Service so much that I eagerly bought DCFC's other albums, starting with two of their earliest albums, The Photo Album and the wearily long named We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes. And they were... well, terrible. There is almost nothing positive I can really say about either album. While they're both only ten songs, they feel waaaaaaay too long, and their just so pretentious and somewhat douchey. But this did not turn me off of DCFC, oh no. Those were early albums, after all, and clearly they got better because Plans was awesome! So, when their next album was released, Narrow Stairs, I went so far as to pre-order it.

And once again, I was disappointed. It's not that Narrow Stairs was bad, there were certainly good songs on the album. Or at least okay songs. But it had the same problem as the early DCFC albums, in that while I didn't hate Narrow Stairs, I just really wanted it to end about halfway through, and when you're wishing for an album to be over, you know it has problems. The entire album felt uninspired and drawn out, like Ben Gibbard was trying to make a point about something that only Ben Gibbard really thinks is important. Oh, also, it was SO emo. Emo is even a guilty pleasure of mine at times, but it wasn't Clarity emo (see: emotional and reflective), it was Fallout Boy emo (see: whiny). Even though I paid good money for it, and pre-ordered it, I have not listened to Narrow Stairs since the month it was released. I guess that statement alone sums up my feelings toward it.

I made a realization after that: I wasn't a fan of Death Cab for Cutie. I just liked the album Plans. I suppose Plans was just their diamond in the rough, or perhaps it meant so much to me at one point that my view of it is eternally skewed (though I just listened to it yesterday while working on this review, and I still like it). But the weird thing is that, even after disappointing me so much, I'm still compelled by some unknown force to support Death Cab. It's just something about Ben Gibbard in particular that makes me really, REALLY want to like his music. So when Codes and Keys was released a month and a half ago, even though I initially refused to listen to it, eventually I was brought here: listening to it stream through my earbuds, contemplating my relationship with the band that created it.

And now, the review. My first reaction to Codes and Keys, specifically the song Codes and Keys, was "Wow, Ben Gibbard has grown significantly away from his emoness". Then, by track three, I found myself, for the first time since 2006, actually, somewhat, enjoying a Death Cab album. The album did really peak with its first single, You Are a Tourist, which is honestly good. It reminds me of all the things I initially liked about DCFC, back in 2006. Admittedly, the album really starts to decline after that, with the exception of Stay Young, Go Dancing, the album's finale, which I also really enjoyed. I guess my verdict on the album is that... it's better than anything Death Cab for Cutie has done besides Plans. Maybe that doesn't say much, but Codes and Keys is truly a growth album for the increasingly mellow Gibbard, which is something I can appreciate. I think the album definitely deserves a listening to, and in my case, a good second listening to.

Oh, here's a video from the album for you too. Enjoy!

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