Death Cab for Cutie: plunging down the indie-rock rabbit hole
With seven albums under their belts, Death Cab for Cutie have arrived at a proverbial crossroads. The band of Seattlites could have continued down the formulaic path that has established them as a fixture of their genre; instead, they decided to take the plunge down the indie-rock rabbit hole and change up their renowned and much-emulated aesthetic.
Consequentially, their latest album, Codes and Keys, is new musical and thematic territory for Death Cab. The songs cull from older work while simultaneously pushing stylistic boundaries; the arrangements take notable cues from their peers and idols – “Doors Unlocked and Open” is a Radiohead circa Hail to the Thief moment while some songs, like “Home is a Fire,” forgo guitar-centrism in lieu of synthesizers and feature reverberant, effect-heavy vocals, recalling Gibbard’s beloved project The Postal Service.
“Just by the nature of the demo of songs that Ben turned in to us, there was a lot more opportunity and freedom to try different instruments from our normal set-up,” explains Death Cab’s bassist, Nick Harmer. “We had just made Narrow Stairs , sitting in a room and tracking everything live to analog tape, so I think more than anything it was a reaction to how we made [the last album] and really wanting to try new things.”
Love and Mathematics
The nouveautés of Codes and Keys can likely be attributed to the bandmembers’ recent milestones – marriage, kids, new beginnings – which affected the recording process as well as the songs’ content. The boys spent shorter, sporadic stints in different recording studios along the west coast so they wouldn’t be away from their families for too long, but also so they could distance themselves from and revisit each song with fresh ears.
“It was very important for us to record in chunks and then put stuff away for a while, to let it gestate and percolate for a little bit, and then come back to it and record some more,” Nick says. “It allowed us to have as objective a perspective on what we were making as possible.”
With a track record of heavy-hearted, hopelessly-romantic songs to their credit, fans may be surprised at the elision of Gibbard’s troubadour tendencies in favor of more concise, reticent lyrics. But this, too, comes with the advent of committing to a fulfilling relationship: the creative outcome is more emotionally stable and pensive in different ways, and what love songs there are exude requited affection instead of lovesick longing.
“The things that Ben sings about on this album are different in a way that has been unique for this band in the sense that there’s more hope and more love in this album,” says Nick. “It’s nice to have some emotional balance in the songs where in the past, it was more heavily weighted on darker themes. And that’s not to say that this record is all sunny and pop and happy, either.”
Death Cab for Cutie
July 31 | Parc Jean-Drapeau
as part of Osheaga