Although I liked large parts of 2008's "Narrow Stairs", it could not hold a candle to Death Cab For Cutie's previous releases that really broke the band from indie darlings to major label titans. Both "Transatlanticism" and "Plans" are classics, and "Narrow Stairs", though venturing into some new ground for the band, fell short of that standard. How nice then that they are back on the upswing with their new one, "Codes And Keys".
There were plenty of great tracks on "Narrow Stairs", but a fair number of less than stellar ones that weighed it down as well. There is none of that amongst the eleven songs that make up "Codes And Keys". Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla and company are back to releasing a work that shines from start to finish.
The jittery nervousness of "Home Is A Fire" starts things off before giving way to an absolutely dreamy chorus. It's an album highlight on the first track. That is followed by the pure pop of the title track. Boasting a bouncy piano line, strings and a radio ready melody, this has single written all over it.
Speaking of singles, the first off the album, "You Are A Tourist" is driven by an unforgettable guitar line that sticks in your skull upon first listen. Tracks like this one and the title cut will put to rest the fears of those who thought Death Cab were losing the ability to craft straightforward melodic pop/rock after some of the experimentation of the previous album. "Underneath The Sycamore" also falls in line with Nick Harmer's prominent bass work leading the way winding in and out under Gibbard's rich choruses.
Other notable tracks here include the driving "Some Boys", complete with breathy samples and bursts of Jason McGerr's drums and the slowly simmering anthem "St. Peter's Cathedral". The album's longest track is also one of its best, the gorgeous "Unobstructed Views" which builds for over three minutes with piano, bass and atmospheric keyboards before the vocals finally start. The beauty of the track fully blossoms at this point, giving way to the first of a few unabashed odes to love on the album courtesy of the recently married Gibbard.
Album closer "Stay Young, Go Dancing" is another of those tracks, as Gibbard recently said on the band's appearance on VH-1's Storytellers, "I think as a recently married man, I'm allowed to do a love song." Considering so many of his classic songs revolve around the opposite side of love, he has certainly earned that right and the music doesn't suffer at all. It's nice to hear him sing a simple phrase like "when she sings, I hear a symphony" set to sweet strings.
"Oh how I feel alive" Gibbard sings on the last track and it is a fitting summation of "Codes And Keys" as well. Everything that made you fall in love with Death Cab For Cutie is here, it's an album alive with what they do best and a reaffirmation that they're still one of the best pop/rock acts around.
"Codes And Keys" was released in the U.S. May 31, 2011 on Atlantic Records.