Album: Death Cab For Cutie, Codes and Keys (Atlantic)
Friday 27 May 2011
It's been a slow, diligent ascent to success, but with Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie may finally repeat their homeland chart success and become the latest American indie outfit to follow The National into British hearts.
The album is the seventh of a career fast closing in on a decade and a half, and it's all the better for the experience thus accrued: there's an ease and comfort about the songs that suggests they fell into place naturally, rather than suffering endless alterations; and the band seem content to let them breathe and take on a life of their own, rather than freight them with unnecessary adornment.
For all its naturalness, the most immediately striking aspect of the album is the change in the band's approach, with guitars supplanted by keyboards, both in the foregrounded piano grooves that carry songs such as "Some Boys" and the title-track, and in the textures that bring depth to them. On "Codes and Keys", the rolling piano is draped with slurred smears of strings, while the pounding groove of "Some Boys" gains urgency through the panting breaths accompanying the rhythm. Only with the fourth track, "Doors Unlocked and Open", does guitar start to make a decisive contribution, with a spangly figure riding its Neu!-beat motorik groove; before arpeggiated chords and corkscrew lead guitar figures hoist the single "You Are a Tourist" to greater heights.
A catchy anthem, its uplifting lyric ("When there's a burning in your heart, an endless yearning in your heart, build it bigger than the sun, let it grow") is perhaps the most positive resolution of the doubt and alienation which provide the pervasive theme of Codes and Keys. Right from the opening lines of "Home Is a Fire" – "Sleep with the lights on, shudder with shades drawn" – the album is haunted by fear and insecurity. The title track frets about "what's outside your door" before concluding in more exultant, affirmative manner, while with its lyric about "isolation/dotted lines/seas of concrete", etc, "Doors Unlocked and Open" could be a throwback to the urban alienation that was so fashionable among 1980s new-wavers.
As such, it's entirely apt that they should have chosen Alan Moulder to mix the album, a man whose work with the likes of Nine Inch Nails and The Jesus and Mary Chain has given him plenty of experience in making the alien approachable. And certainly, with its echoey, fuzz-trudge riff and undulating synth buzz, a track such as "Monday Morning" would fit in perfectly on a playlist of Cure and Bauhaus favourites.
It's not entirely successful: the static piano and drone make "Unobstructed Views" a bit of a plodder, and "Underneath the Sycamore" is bland, colourless indie. But the overall air of alienation overcome by communion is for the most part deftly achieved, even if the concluding volte-face of "Stay Young, Go Dancing" comes across as too disingenuous.
DOWNLOAD THIS Codes and Keys; Some Boys; Doors Unlocked and Open; You Are a Tourist
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