Codes and Keys

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By Emily Hopkins

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Death Cab for Cutie has come a long way since catapulting into the spotlight with 2003’s “Transatlanticism.” The Bellingham, Wash. band has released some of the most influential songs of the past decade, forever cementing its status as America’s foremost indie darlings.

The group’s fourth studio album, “Codes and Keys,” is perhaps its most optimistic to date. The tracks are generally depictive of happy scenarios, a far cry from the dark undertones of the band’s last release “Narrow Stairs.” As much as it pains me to say – I’m an extremely diehard Death Cab fan – what DCFC’s latest effort lacks, however, is depth and range.

The 11 songs on the album seem to blend into one another, carrying the same general rhythm and style. Whereas past albums mixed gentle ballads (“I Will Follow You Into the Dark”) with upbeat numbers (“The Sound of Settling”) and piano chords with driving guitars and synthesizers, “Codes and Keys” falls flat. It’s definitely one of Death Cab’s slowest-paced albums, so heads up headbangers: prepare yourselves for more of a head-nodder this time around.

Don’t get me wrong – “Codes and Keys” is a quality album. The record’s first single, “You Are a Tourist,” is a peppy, coming-of-age track reminiscent of the band’s early days, channeling the stylings of 2005’s “Marching Bands of Manhattan.” It’s easily one of the breakout songs of the album, and it certainly deserves some recognition for its catchy backing guitars.

“Doors Unlocked and Open” is another interesting track, infusing a bit of the synth-pop muse of lead singer Ben Gibbard’s former project, The Postal Service. It strays the farthest from the uplifting tone of the album – if not in lyrics (which seem to be a stream of consciousness stringing together of complementary words), but clearly in tone.

The members of Death Cab are not newcomers to the game. What fans were looking for on this album was a clear pushing of the boundaries, something fresh and slightly different; what is taken away, however, is a safe, commercial bet. “Codes and Keys” is more akin to a rehashing of past hits. There’s a tweak here and there, but nothing unique enough to truly be a revelation.

This wasn’t my favorite album of the group’s library, but, despite that fact, Ben Gibbard and the rest of the band can do wrong in my eyes. In the end, it’s Death Cab – though “Codes and Keys” isn’t quite what was expected or anticipated, it’s a valiant effort nonetheless.

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