Pop Culture, Shattered Faith — June 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Death Cab’s New Muse in “Codes” (album review)

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Death Cab for Cutie has spent much of their career writing songs steeped in melancholy and found considerable success in the process. However, frontman Ben Gibbard and company aren’t the same men they used to be. On their latest release, Codes and Keys, they’ve found compelling new muses: contentment and happiness.

While Codes and Keys certainly shares similarities to Death Cab’s past work, it is considerably lighter in both lyrical content and overall vibe than anything they’ve done before. Ben Gibbard sounds downright chipper on some songs — and rightfully so, after all, he’s now happily married to actress and singer Zooey Deschanel. It’s refreshing hearing love songs coming from him like “Unobstructed Views” and “Monday Mornings.” And while love is certainly a theme, Gibbard also has several moments of self-reflection, where his considers his past and compares it to his life now. On the album’s darkest track, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Gibbard stands in admiration of the beautiful cathedral wondering what answers it holds about religion, faith and the afterlife. In the end he finds his conclusion, repeating the line, “there’s nothing past this.”

Death Cab for Cutie — which now includes Nicholas Harmer on bass, Jason McGerr on drums and Chris Walla who basically does all the rest including production duties — have also made some musical changes onCodes and Keys. While their previous effort, Narrow Stairs, had an epic quality to the songs, worthy of playing in stadiums, Codes and Keys is more stripped down. Harmer and McGerr provide heavy rhythm throughout but driving guitars are mostly replaced with piano, keyboards and electronic loops and beats. The opening track Home is a Fire sounds as if it could have been released by Ben Gibbard’s electronic side project, The Postal Service. Chris Walla’s production is perfect, knowing exactly when to pull in the reigns and when to let loose. The overall sound combines the sparse production found on their earlier albums with the big production of their later albums, creating a fresh new sound.

For a band that’s been around nearly fifteen years, Death Cab for Cutie is still releasing great albums by staying true to themselves and allowing themselves to be newly inspired. Codes and Keys exemplifies that mindset and is one of the best albums so far this year.

WATCH: Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard reflects on how becoming a married man affected his musical choices in Codes and Keys in this VH1 Storytellers interview and performance.

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