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Album review: Death Cab for Cutie's 'Codes and Keys'

May 31, 2011 |  7:30 am

Death-cab-for-cutie-codes-and-keys-album-cover For a guy who once sang of Los Angeles, “It's a lovely summer's day / And I can almost see a skyline through a thickening shroud of egos,” Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sure seems to have made a nice new life here.

Marrying Zooey Deschanel will brighten anyone’s mood, but on his band’s new album, “Codes and Keys,” he’s picked up a bit of L.A.’s sun-scarred optimism and a droll domestic satisfaction that’s alternately smug and insightful.

Fortunately, it’s all bolstered by some of the most enticing production of the band’s career. The title track has a nifty orchestral swoon atop some Spector-ish drum pomp and bar piano; the ethereal guitars on “Underneath the Sycamore” back up one of the group’s strongest choruses in years. The nimble krautrock jam “Doors Unlocked & Open” is a perfect genre experiment.

But Gibbard’s barbed wit can feel unattractive coupled with themes of finding bliss. The insistent rocker “Some Boys” catalogs male emotional failures, but with an undercurrent of “…except for this guy” to it. Before, he’d plead guilty first. “Stay Young Go Dancing” is a rebuttal to his old take on L.A.: “Life is sweet in the belly of the beast,” he sings atop a pop-country acoustic guitar. Sounds as if he’s just starting his 500 days of summer.

Death Cab for Cutie
“Codes and Keys”
Two and a half stars (Out of four stars)

-- August Brown