It’s hard to chart when Death Cab For Cutie went from being a contextually successful indie group to a consistently gold-selling alternative rock band, but it was definitely somewhere between being name-dropped on “The O.C.” and the unexpected breakout success of Ben Gibbard’s side project The Postal Service — a pair of unwitting bookends that somehow circumvented the necessity for a hit single or an act of marketing genius. This inadvertent, but taken-advantage-of freedom is, in part, what allows (or even propels) the linear thrust of Codes and Keys. Of its eleven tracks, the majority are dictated by rhythm over melody, delivering on the band’s initial promise that this would be “a much less guitar-centric album than we’ve ever made before.” But that’s not to say that this isn’t a pop record at heart, and Gibbard’s propensity for earnest literary statements still pulls the strings.
“You Are A Tourist” was a smart choice for the lead single: most similar to the band’s earlier work, it features a relatively normal arrangement along with Gibbard’s high/slightly-less-high vocal contrasts guiding the listener throughout the track. It also includes Death Cab’s most memorable riff since “Title And Registration,” as Chris Walla’s guitar has its shining moment. It’s infectious and sweet, a great representation of the album as a whole. It also serves as a segue into the best track on the record, the six-minute “Unobstructed Views.”
“Unobstructed Views” is a ruminative number about living without the assurances of religion or universal truth. In fact, in the lyric “there’s no one in the sky, just our love/no one unobstructed view, no perfect views/just our love, just our love,” Gibbard succinctly sums up Death Cab’s seemingly new outlook. Nothing matters but love. Gone, for the most part, are the musings of a wounded boy. In its place is a man who has found himself, still scarred, but, also, in love…and in love with being in love.
Nowhere is this more explicit than on the final cut, “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” Despite normally closing albums with a sad and contemplative track, Death Cab goes for smiles here as the track is bound by a twinkling set of keys and a snare-filled drum line that beckons for lovers to dance closely with each other. Perhaps we can thank Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard’s wife, for the new mood.
This is certainly not an album all Death Cab fans will be quick to embrace. There is something about the acute angst of their other work that has endeared them to so many listeners. While that angst is largely absent here, there is much to be said about the evolution in its place. It is a rare thing for a band so defined by a signature aesthetic to abandon it in the way Death Cab has here. “Codes and Keys” isn’t my favorite album by Death Cab, but it is one that will easily find a comfortable slot in my summer soundtrack
Transistor-on Takes “The Way Back Down” on EP
Transistor-on calls their goods “fuzzed out reverb music,” and in the spirit of post-rock, EP The Way Back Down is full of that melodious texture and sensation. Recorded at The Cottage with Damon Moon, The Way Back Down is a mere four tracks. But those songs make a satisfying sampling of a band with a big future ahead.
Atlanta duo Joey Piersante and Chris Armistead offer up a hazy fugue state that is the blueprint for this coming summer, showing that they can run with the best of the lo-fi crowd with their unique rhythms and finger-picking. The minimalist use of instruments that whip up the dream poppy wall of sound succeeds in taking the listener in a layered, chill journey.
Tracks like “Calling Out” and “Solar Flare” are so catchy (the former with its title refrain; the latter with its main guitar melody), that they etch onto your brain and trick you into thinking these are songs that have been around for maybe 20 years or so already.
Reviewers are throwing out comparisons—and they’ll continue to—of Transistor-on to Explosions in the Sky. The similarities are there for sure; both bands share a genre, after all. But saying only “they remind me of Explosions in the Sky” overlooks the fact that Transistor-on are stepping out in earnest on this EP, sounding comfortable in their skin without being jaded. Plus, having smoky vocals on the tracks adds to the spacey miasma and mystery that serves as the overarching feel of the record. The singing on “Empty Planet,” for example, highlights the track’s slow burn into its rocking guitar-driven crescendo.
Though the last piece on The Way Back Down is called “Exit,” by no means is that a harbinger of the band’s future. Transistor-on closes with a sure-footed tapestry of distortion and crisp rhythm, wrapping up a consistent and skillful release that definitely marks their arrival.
The Way Back Down is available to stream on SoundCloud or for purchase on iTunes. The gorgeous photo cover by Richard Casteel.
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Emily Hearn Saves Time in a Bottle on “Hourglass”
Emily Hearn’s sonic journey on Hourglass shows that she is a woman coming into her own, figuring out the knots of past heartache, the bliss of newlywed life, and the passage of time.
Time acts as the overarching narrative on the record; Hourglass spans the two years following the Athens, GA native’s debut Red Balloon and 2013 EP Promises. “We fall in or out of love as time moves us,” she explains. “We learn life-changing lessons as time goes on. We figure out how to handle important relationships as time shapes us. We decide who we want to be and what we believe as time reveals our priorities. And ultimately, we grow older as time goes by.”
Hearn sings wistfully “Oh, to be young, and to have time” on the third track “Oak Tree,” longing for the naïve feeling that time would never move forward, or at least not so fast. She frets over seeing her parents age so quickly. The existential worries of a twenty-something come delivered in a package of a catchy, infectious chorus and clap-along-able melody.
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