In the amount of time since Death Cab for Cutie's first album was released in 1998 (Something About Airplanes), the band has undergone many palpable changes. The music has, at times, even been upbeat and the lyrics have often strayed from the topic of love, with an emphasis on love gone wrong. On Codes and Keys, Ben Gibbard's brainchild metamorphoses into an entirely "grown-up" band, but still maintains the subtleties of a Peter Pan complex.
Death Cab's preceding album, Narrow Stairs, was sweeping and grandiose, with prodigious songs like "I Will Possess Your Heart" and "Grapevine Fires." Now, three years later, it is clear that the band has been waiting for its fans to be fooled into believing they could only create melancholic slow jams, only to shatter those illusions with tracks like "You Are A Tourist" (the first single off the album), "Some Boys" (one of the most loveable songs on Codes and Keys), and "Home is a Fire."
"Codes and Keys" itself is the best example of Death Cab for Cutie maturing musically while continuing to preserve that morose tone they are known for. With Gibbard's knack for arcane vocals, he murmurs, "We won't get far flying circles in a jar/Because the air we breathe is thinning with the words that we speak."
"Unobstructed Views" is the closest sounding to the overall vibe of 2003's Transatlanticism as Gibbard repeats ethereally, "No unobstructed views, just our love. Just our love." With "Monday Morning," the listener is left to wonder if maybe Gibbard is paying homage to his wife, Zooey Deschanel, as he sings, "She may be young, but she only likes old things. And modern music it ain't to her taste."
Of course, Death Cab is also occasionally prone to the schmaltzy (e.g. "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" from 2005's Plans), with "Underneath the Sycamore" and "Saint Peter's Cathedral" both sharing the quality of being mildly jejune. This mood is counteracted by the closing song, "Stay Young, Go Dancing," which is definitely sound advice for those who want to eschew the plight of aging.
In general, Codes and Keys is just more of the same, incorporating snatches of creative progression. But that's one of the things we love most about Death Cab for Cutie: Consistency amid the chaos.