Hailing Death Cab
Band makes ‘no apologies’ for taking risks on new CD
Friday, October 14, 2011
Refunds: Refunds are available at point of purchase for the Oct. 20 Death Cab for Cutie concert. Credit card orders will be automatically refunded. Another Portland performance at a venue to be determined will be announced. Check the band’s website, deathcabforcutie.com, for updates.
Die-hard fans can make the trek to Seattle to see the band. The Hold Steady, who were set to open the show, will play the Wonder Ballroom on Oct. 20. Tickets are $17 in advance via Ticketfly.com. This show is for adults 21 and older.
What: Death Cab for Cutie, in concert in Seattle.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 22.
Where: KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle.
Cost: $45.82-$53.48 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or http://ticketmaster.com.
Early reports about the new Death Cab For Cutie album, “Codes and Keys,” probably startled some of the band’s fans — and may have scared them.
Front man Ben Gibbard, in an October 2010 interview with Spin magazine, compared “Codes and Keys” to Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” and talked about its keyboard-centric approach, a notable shift from the group’s guitar-based previous albums.
It was enough to wonder if Death Cab For Cutie had suddenly morphed into Radiohead.
Now that “Codes and Keys” is out, Death Cab fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, there are strong instrumental, sonic and textural contrasts to earlier albums, but “Codes and Keys” still sounds very much like Death Cab — a bottom line that became hard for the band to communicate.
In fact, “Codes and Keys” may be the group’s best album yet.
When fans heard about the less guitar-focused approach, many started asking if the band had gone with a synthesized, electronic sound, bassist Nick Harmer said in a recent phone interview. “Well, that’s there, and certainly those are very strong textures in the album.”
But it’s hardly an electronic album, he said.
And while Harmer isn’t one to boast, he is excited about the group’s work on the new release.
“This is what we are,” Harmer said. “This is who we are, and no apologies.”
While proud of the group’s previous six albums, Harmer has never been able to speak as confidently about those other Death Cab CDs. And his assessment of “Codes and Keys” says a lot about the place he and lead singer Gibbard, guitarist/keyboardist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr have reached both within and outside of Death Cab For Cutie.
Before making its 2005 CD “Plans,” the group had signed to major label Atlantic Records. There were concerns about whether fans would reject the band because it left the independent music world. The next release, “Narrow Stairs,” was flavored by difficult times in the personal lives of the band members.
“Really we brought in a lot of that extra baggage that was happening outside and carried that around through the tour cycle and everything,” Harmer said of the “Narrow Stairs” period.
But since then, things have improved considerably. All four band members are now married or engaged, with Gibbard gaining notoriety because his wife is Zooey Deschanel, actress and one-half of the pop duo She & Him.
While Gibbard in interviews has said only a couple of songs on “Codes and Keys” are directly about his wife, the overall mood of the album is considerably brighter than on other Death Cab albums, especially “Narrow Stairs.”
That’s a shift Harmer welcomed.
“Ben writes fantastic lyrics, and I’m really proud of the lyrics to this album compared to the last few albums as well,” he said. “There’s a really good balance, I think, emotionally, mood wise.”
It’s the music, though, that offers the biggest contrasts to earlier Death Cab albums.
Songs like “Unobstructed Views,” “St. Peter’s Cathedral” and “Monday Morning” make liberal use of electronic sounds and programmed rhythms. The title track is also a bit of a twist, with bouncy piano and sweeping strings setting the tone. A few songs, like “You Are A Tourist” and “Stay Young Go Dancing,” put guitars in the spotlight and could fit on earlier albums.
Melodically, the songs offer the plaintive melodies that are common in the band’s back catalog, while Gibbard’s singing brings another familiar sound.
Unlike with “Narrow Stairs,” which was recorded in complete studio takes and involved minimal overdubs, “Codes and Keys” was recorded digitally and finished takes were assembled from a variety of performances and overdubbed parts.
“We really wanted to embrace all the options and choices that were available (by recording to computer),” Harmer said. “The computer became its own instrument, in some ways, on this album. … The studio really opened up a lot of horizons after that for us.”
Even though songs were pieced together from multiple takes and used a good deal of electronics, programs and loops, Harmer said the “Codes and Keys” material is translating well to the live stage — after some work.
“We’ve rehearsed longer and more for this tour cycle than any tour cycle we’ve ever done as a band,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard.”