Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys

Rating: ★★★ · ·

I feel like I’ve been waiting for Death Cab For Cutie to step up to the plate and produce a record that blows me away for the longest time. It seems as though they have produced some really grand songs, but have not necessarily excelled at making a cohesive album that strikes listeners with hit after hit, at least not for a long while. On Codes and Keys, it’s not a total wash, but it certainly does not fit the gripping and fantastic album that I’d hoped for.

While it is disappointing that this band did not miraculously intensify from their last release, it is still comforting to know that they know how to craft some good songs. If it’s any consolation to those long time fans of Death Cab, there isn’t much drastically different on this album. You have the bleak yet ever enticing vocals of Ben Gibbard, which serves as the distinctive quality for this band. The album starts with “Home Is a Fire,” on which you’d think that they’d begin with one of those knockouts, but instead you get a slow, crawling start, as if the band is reemerging from the depths of the three years since their last release. However, it comes across as a bit of a boring song for those who are fairly educated and familiar with the band’s sound.

Things don’t really get going until you reach “You Are a Tourist.” It’s classic Death Cab from the start: loops of Gibbard’s vocals echoing in the background, pragmatic and dignified drums and the semi-serene, on the verge of edgy, guitar. As I mentioned earlier, there is no doubt that this band knows how to make a killer pop song, and it is proven on this song, as well as later on “Monday Morning.” This track divulges the tale of a muse that Gibbard admires and then marvels at the simple events by which he met this darling female. It’s little gems like these songs that make me hold onto this band.

There are other tracks as good as these, some that are throwaways, and others that lie somewhere in the middle, leaving it up to you to make the decision whether they linger in your listening catalog. Such is the tradeoff of having a front man with such a distinctive vocal quality: it allows for some numbers to run together, or sound akin to another track that the band has already produced.

I don’t think that Codes and Keys is by any means a step back from their last record, but by no means is it a step up. Death Cab For Cutie seems to be fairly content with this ratio of excellent songs to mediocre, and if that ratio is cool with you, then listen away. After more than a decade it’s impressive that I am still drawn to their subtle indie-pop, which is a feat in itself.

Gibbard & Farrar @ Antone’s (1/27)

gibbardfarrar

Date 1/27/10
Location Antones
Doors 8pm
Tickets Sold Out

The super duo of Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard and Son Volt leading man Jay Farrar are stopping into town at Antone’s on Wednesday.  The recently formed group are touring in support of their Big Sur inspired colaborative project.  One of our favorite songwriters Will Johnson will also be on hand to open things up.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Ben+Gibbard+and+Jay+Farrar+-+California+Zephyr.mp3]

Download: Ben Gibbard & Jay Farrar – California Zephyr [MP3]

FT5: Greatest Disappointments of the 00s

0108top5coverAlright, so we just finished wrapping up the 00s, and it’s left some of us (namely me) feeling a bit nostalgic for a decade that went by way too quickly.  It left me thinking about things I ruined or things I succeeded in, but most of all, it’s left me reflecting upon the most disappointing moments in my life.  Oddly, I deflect my own animosity for my life, and turn to the world of music.  Below is the five most disappointing things for me, musically, in the decade that passed.  Some have a chance at redemption, but others, well, you blew it big time.

bengibbardstolemygirlfriend5. Ben Gibbard stole my girlfriend

Look, I know that this happened only recently, but I also have come to believe that Zooey‘s hotness has only increased exponentially in the past few years.  All that aside, it’s not just that Ben stole my girlfriend (really, he did!), but he stole the dreams of me and my many like-minded friends.  Out of nowhere, he popped up his now skinny head, and crushed the dreams of many.  Shame on you Ben Gibbard.

 
 

thewrens_meadowland4. The Wrens don’t put out another album

The Wrens put out Meadowlands, which is absoltuely one of my all time favorite albums, and that feeling of joy when I put the needle to the record will never fade away.  What did fade away was the feelings of joy I had in regard to The Wrens.  Lead man Charles did a little bit of work, most recently with Will from Okkervil River, which means dudes were getting work done.  Why didn’t I see any of it at all?  Why did they leave me just as I was falling in love? Nearly a decade with no new tunes? You fail.

 
 

wilco-yhf3. Wilco couldn’t replicate Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

You go against the odds and record one of the most brilliant masterpieces in modern pop music, one which everyone still talks about, but then you slowly decline all the way towards 2009s Wilco, the Album.  You can’t entirely blame the guys, as they lost Jay Bennett (as did we all, RIP), but they went from such great heights to such a low.  Not only this, but people somehow kept believing in them, as if they could bring back the magic.  I admit it! I was a sucker; I fell for it.  Never again Wilco!

 
 

weweredeadbeforetheshipevensank2. Modest Mouse sold out

Sure, this is the age-old debate about whether or not you deem it okay to allow your favorite secrets to better themselves and move their careers forward.  My answer? No!  Modest Mouse had the control of the indie world after Lonesome Crowded West; they could do no wrong.  Sure, a lot of people think Moon and Antartica was their best, but those people are wrong!  Modest Mouse went to the majors, lost their luster, and they lost a fan (though I know I’m not the only one).

 
 

ryanadams_cardinology1. Ryan Adams

I’ll admit that I was a little bit late jumping on the Ryan Adams train, but I jumped all the way on.  It baffles me how the guy that made Whiskeytown brilliant, then put out Heartbreaker, can rush down the hill of mediocrity so quickly.  I know he landed Mandy and all, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I willingly sat down to listen to things like 29 or CardinologyRyan Adams was my biggest disappointment.

 
 

Look, I know you all disagree with some of these, and I get that, but I had to let you know how disappointed I was in these things; isn’t time to be reflective, at least for another week? If you had a bigger disappointment, or want to tell me why I am wrong, we’re all for it! Leave a comment.

Mew – No More Stories are Told…

mew

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Mew will officially receive the award for the most long-winded title of 2009 later this year (so long I refuse to include it here), but the album deserves more attention for the musical ground it walks rather than the ridiculousness of the title alone.

While they might be labeled as off a prog sort of grouping, let’s focus more on the fact that they tend to present themselves more as a deconstructionist band.  “New Terrain,” the album’s opening track, has various segments recorded backwards, which lends itself to the mounting tension in the song.  You can feel the song pushing forward as the album pushes ahead. Following this up is the disjointed guitar work of “Introducing Palace Players,” which uses a semi-staccato guitar line with odd musical accompaniment to construct the entire song.

The unique voice of singer Bjerre is something that recalls that far-off echo meets harmony voice, sort of like Ben Gibbard. While early on in the album, the vocals don’t necessarily mix perfectly with the musical approach of the group, you find that listening carefully will bring the world of the instrumentals and the vocals together. By the time that you reach the mellow songs such as “Silas the Magic Car” or “Cartoons and Macreme Wounds” you can see that everything has eventually become glued together.

While the lyrics seem to paint a bleak story, based on the title of the album alone, the music doesn’t necessarily comply with the overall emotional aesthetic No More Stories are Told… would leave one to believe. “Hawaii” is an energetic number that recalls a multitude of bands that have hit the scene lately such as Efterklang. Steady percussion and serpentine guitar collide with gang vocals before Bjerre comes in alone.  It’s a perfect Hawaiin themed song, aside from the abstract approach to songwriting that the band exudes. Wait for it to blast off near the end of the song, and you’ll completely understand the sentiment behind these words.

Still, you can’t ignore the lyrics throughout the record, painting a solemn outlook on the world as a whole.  “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” comes off as a joyous number, but as Bjerre sings “feels like someone put a hex on you” he seems to be agreeing that everyone eventually comes up against forces that work against us.  It’s not as if it will all end here though, as his agreement that life is not easy is just an affirmation that despite hardships, there is light on the other side.  Such goes the story of the record, as every dark moment meets a brighter future.  Although the album suggest otherwise, a great story is being told throughout, and everyone will find the musical accompaniment equally as gratifying on the latest Mew effort.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/01-New-Terrain.mp3]

Download: Mew – New Terrain [MP3]