When there’s a burning in your heart
An endless fury in your heart
Build it bigger than the Sun
Let it grow
Let it grow
And there’s a burning in your heart
Don’t be alarmed
The first lyrics we hear from Death Cab for Cutie’s latest single, You Are A Tourist, sound buoyantly hopeful, to say the least. And to say even less, hopeful exemplifies my feelings toward their seventh studio album, Codes and Keys. Three years have passed since the Pacific Northwest quartet unveiled Narrow Stairs, and if you recall, they last left us with the downhearted closing track, “The Ice is Getting Thinner”. A pick-me-up, if you will. Fortunately, Codes and Keys seems to grant us the promise that it’ll pick up the energy some.
But there’s something to be said about the melancholy nature to Ben Gibbard’s vocals and Chris Walla’s homely instrumentation. It’s very inviting, even if Gibbard’s wailing on and on, as he does on, say, “Title and Registration”, where lyrics like There’s no blame for how our love did slowly fade, and now that it’s gone it’s like it wasn’t there at all,” read like an ultra depressing status message on AIM. (We’ve all been there – myself included.) But that’s the allure. There’s a feeling inferred there that yearns to be understood. It’s this unique intrigue that grips its listener, especially any teenager experiencing those awkward years of high school. (Again, we’ve all been there – myself included.)
It’s no surprise Death Cab’s fourth studio album, 2003’s Transatlanticism, became the band’s breakthrough effort. Incredibly accessible by nature (“The Sound of Settling”, for example), the 11-track jaunt, which clocks in at just over 44 minutes, sees Gibbard opening up to his fans. These days, the songs here offer a great parallel to where they are now. Album opener The New Year brings on a tone that seems like the antithesis to the new single, You Are A Tourist. Gibbard retorts, I wish the world was flat like the old days/Then I could travel just by folding a map/There’d be no distance that could hold us back, while now he insists, And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born then, it’s time to go/And you find your destination with so many different places to call home. While maybe lacking the fresh optimism of Ben Gibbards lyrics as of late, the Transatlanticism single still provides an anthem-like sound, which is hard to resist, with its hard-hitting guitar riffs.
Soon after, we arrive at “Lightness” and the aforementioned Title and Registration, which works wonders within the album, rather than as a stand-alone track. By itself, “Title and Registration” remains a melodic tune accompanied by some gripping lyrics, but followed by “Lightness”, there’s a remarkable depth that occurs. On “Lightness”, Gibbard croons, Your brain is the dam and I am the fish who can’t reach the cord, which empowers what comes next on “Title…”, as he continues, singing, Theres no blame for how our love did slowly fade… It’s very familial.
Then finding the middle of the album, we arrive at Transatlanticism, the title track whose melancholy piano and hopeful guitar licks toy with your emotions almost immediately. They carry us through the song and hold us steady until we get to Jason McGerrs drums, which ignite the final push to what Gibbard insists upon us again and again. As the drums escalate, the final chants of So come on/Come on begin and we get the feeling that hope is finally surfacing. We feel like were really getting somewhere.
After passing over the sweet innocence of Passenger Seat, We Looked Like Giants startles with its aggressive pick up. At this point in the record, albeit the second to last song, Death Cab takes this time to tell us they have a darker side they flirt about with from time to time. When Gibbard yelps, God damn the black night with all its foul temptation, you cant but help feel that this isnt a soft and sappy Death Cab album but something more powerful and widespread.
Then the proverbial credits roll and we’re presented the last song, A Lack of Color. This is where the listener returns to the foundation that Death Cab has always offered: intimacy. Intimacy in the sense that its almost as if the band, as a unit, is talking and speaking personally to how you feel – that the message within the song is just for you. Perhaps that’s always been the band’s vantage point; we have all at one point felt lost and disconnected and the song speaks to this. The band does, come to think of it.