Death Cab for Cutie, ‘Codes and Keys’ (Atlantic)
As recently as three years ago, it would’ve been difficult to imagine an unlikelier title for a Death Cab for Cutie song than “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” (Something more typical from 2008’s Narrow Stairs: “Pity and Fear.”) Stick around till the end of the band’s new Codes and Keys, though, and you’ll find frontman Ben Gibbard advertising the wrinkle-defying properties of his new bride, Zooey Deschanel. “Oh, how I feel alive,” he crows over sprightly acoustic strums.
Whither the Seattle sad sack who once cautioned that “Old age is just around the bend / And I can’t wait to go gray”? Los Angeles, where mopey indie rock goes to die — and then get reincarnated for an episode of Scrubs. Resting at a musical midpoint between Narrow Stairs’ thorny emo-prog and the precise pop of Plans, Death Cab’s latest isn’t all poolside satisfaction: In “Some Boys,” Nick Harmer’s menacing fuzz bass physicalizes Gibbard’s study of the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type, while the taut “Underneath the Sycamore” opens inside a grisly car-crash nightmare.
But having finally escaped “a maze ?of a thousand rainy days,” as he puts it, Gibbard mostly dispenses with his trademark jitters, leaning into Death Cab’s tuneful guitar-band thrum with a confidence that eventually sells Codes and Keys’ moments of ?eager-beaver optimism. We eagerly look forward to “This Diaper Smells Amazing.”