“We won’t get far, flying in circles inside a jar.”
The first line of Death Cab for Cutie’s title-track for Codes and Keys summarizes their newest release perfectly. Daring to change a tried, tested and true musical formula is risky business, especially for a band that has used that prescription on six other albums, and a die-hard fan following that likes things just the way they are. But what singer Ben Gibbard obviously values, is that flies trapped in a jar will die if not set free and that change is sometimes necessary for music and personal survival.
Gone are most of Death Cab’s recognizable guitar-driven songs, replaced front and center by rich synthesizers that steer simplistic, but very infectious melodies. “You Are A Tourist”, highlights this new direction but Gibbard’s lyrical stamp asserts it’s undoubtedly a Death Cab song. “Unobstructed View” neatly follows with a solid three-minute intro of electronic piano moodiness before a single lyric is sung, after which the airy melody soars. Although there is not a single track on this record that requires a life raft, “Underneath The Sycamore” will surely have the die-hards rejoicing that “old” Death Cab hasn’t incinerated their original song writing recipe.
The album’s final track “Stay Young, Go Dancing” is the grand reveal of what has been the catalyst of Gibbard’s change of heart. It speaks of peace-of-mind and stability within a life still chaotic. He declares “Cause when she sings I hear a symphony. And I’m swallowed in sound as it echoes through me.” And it’s these echoes of sound, these codes and keys that decipher the greatest message of this album. That Gibbard has found love and that love changes everything. Die-hards be damned.