Entering an age of younger, more vulnerable templates for what the kids these days call "alternative rock" means the old juggernauts don't really fit the mold of youthful progression. But what does that mean for a well-established band like Death Cab For Cutie? At this stage, Ben Gibbard and his wordy band are settled into their styles; the ones that first found cement on 2005's Plans or 2003's Transatlanticism, depending on your point of view. There is nothing mysterious about Codes and Keys, save for how Gibbard continues to sound so adolescent despite years of success and marriage to one of indie rock's most sought-after dreamboats. At least he isn't pretending with his lyrics.
Gibbard still knows how to pen a "crying-in-your-room-alone" song, but DCFC hasn't really been feral for a long time, and it negatively affects their ability to be compelling to the kids beyond their sonic proficiency. Luckily, I think a lot of people have already realized this isn't a record for the young, rather, the young at heart: a dissection of the neurosis of getting older without realizing it, and a resistance against the tepid preoccupations of bands attempting to assimilate to whatever is "cool" these days (or presumptively define it). Like the immensely enjoyable build of "I Will Possess Your Heart" or more originally "Transatlanticism" from their album of the same name, riffs occasionally spend an uncomfortable amount of time building ("Doors Are Unlocked And Open", "Unobstructed and Open") as if to weed out those without the attention span to stay on course, only to reward the patient with an affecting climactic construction.
The band claimed this would be a bit more experimental and they somewhat deliver on that promise; Codes and Keys is a little left of center for Death Cab. The space in between Gibbards croons and the rhythm section's pulsations is filled with sonic backwash; an intentional expansion of electronic ambient mush. That's fine for casual listening, but it's not immensely rewarding upon the first or second listen, which is fine, considering the preoccupations of DCFC these days are not at all immediate or simple to understand — nor should they be.
Trading the ease of their early emotional trail for deeper terrain, the band sacrifices a bit of the initial engagement of bangers like "We Looked Like Giants", but they haven't been hocking that rap for quite some time now. "Unobstructed Views" follow an almost obtuse melodic path, fretting about notions of truth and longevity, and the path can be convoluted at times. It's nice that the whole thing is as pretty as the pictures on Plans, even though the verbal imagery is less epic ("Marching Bands Of Manhattan" does not find its equal here). But it's simply an indication that the band is more preoccupied with sound than message, and that's just not what most DCFC fans are expecting. It's great to see an old band continually finding new footing, it's just a shame that this time around, despite the age, it's not a sure one.