The indie veterans continue their thrilling journey of self-discovery – even if they’re on cruise control
Almost 15 years into their career, [a]Death Cab For Cutie[/a] have earned the right to do as they please. Arguably they earned it a while back, but having navigated from grassroots indie acclaim ([b]‘Something About Airplanes’[/b]) through big-time breakout ([b]‘Transatlanticism’[/b] and [b]‘Plans’[/b]) to genuine OK-they’re-a-proper-big-deal-now ([b]‘Narrow Stairs’[/b]), the Washington band are now, with [b]‘Codes And Keys’[/b], pushing themselves in new directions that very much smack of doing precisely whatever the fuck they want.
What makes [b]‘Codes…’[/b] largely a pleasure is the fact the band are clearly having fun trying new stuff out while retaining the quiet dignity and grace that won them so much love in the first place. Whether it’s the title track’s breathy strings, [b]‘Doors Unlocked And Open’[/b]’s motorik heartbeat or the glorious twinkling of [b]‘Unobstructed Views’[/b], Death Cab have moved partially away from the guitar-centric melodies of their past, instead concentrating on building atmospherics using all manner of new sounds.
Opening track [b]‘Home Is A Fire’[/b] is the most striking example, as it’s speckled with glitchy percussion and minimal melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Social Network soundtrack. But as the album is buoyed by Ben Gibbard’s honeyed vocals and some cast-iron songwriting – the warm [b]‘Monday Morning’[/b] and pulsing [b]‘Some Boys’[/b] – at no point does it feel unrecognisable. Rather, it’s a flexing of muscles that shows they can go either straight ahead or weirder at will.
The problem is that it’s not as full-blooded a reinvention as this suggests. On the bolder moments [b]‘Codes…’[/b] discards the indie-rock tropes that propelled Death Cab to where they are today; unfortunately, considering what they’re clearly capable of, it doesn’t go far enough. It’s a fine album, but signposts a possible future rather than taking us there directly.