Published Jun 02, 2011Having gone straight for the heartstrings on piano-based, growing pain-riddled major label debut Plans, Death Cab for Cutie returned to their trademark pristine guitar lines for 2008's Narrow Stairs, albeit with a somewhat laboured attempt at adding muscle to their sound. In contrast to his band's newfound bombast, Ben Gibbard's earnest voice and oft-grandiose lyrics, for the first time, sounded small.
Death Cab's seventh studio album finds the band matching their brawn with studio brains ― guitarist, co-songwriter and long-time in-band producer Chris Walla has admitted to listening to a lot of ambient, sonically textured music of late and his steady hand is all over Codes and Keys. "Unobstructed Views" is the album's centrepiece, a six-minute interplay of washing ambience, a deep, rolling bass line and twinkling synths that boil over warmly late in the song. Elsewhere, Walla's studio magic is woven with Gibbard's still-intact penchant for melody: the sunny pummel of "Doors Unlocked and Open" is highlighted by a key-changing chorus, album-opener "Home is a Fire" swirls satisfyingly around a series of chimed, one-line lyrical phrases and "Stay Young, Go Dancing" is a testament to the power of Gibbard's songwriting ability.
The album is far from perfect ― nothing here truly pushes the sonic boundaries one feels Walla might have reached with a little more freedom, and the cheery bounce of "Portable Television," while in line with Gibbard's rising mood, rings hollow. Occasionally, the lyrics border on the cheesy side as well, but if that's not your cup of tea, why are you reading a Death Cab review? (Atlantic)