Codes and Keys

Codes and Keys
Codes and Keys
Studio album by Death Cab for Cutie
Released May 31, 2011
Recorded 2010 : Sound City, Van Nuys, CA ;
The Warehouse, Vancouver, BC ;
London Bridge, Seattle, WA ;
Two Sticks Audio, Seattle, WA ;
Tiny Telephone, San Francisco, CA ;
Bright Street Recorders, North Hollywood, CA ;
Jackpot! Recording, Portland, OR ;
Avast Recording, Seattle, WA
Genre Indie pop[1][2], alternative rock[2], indie rock[2]
Length 45:04
Label Atlantic
Producer Chris Walla
Death Cab for Cutie chronology
Narrow Stairs
Codes and Keys
Singles from Codes and Keys
  1. "You Are a Tourist"
    Released: March 29, 2011
  2. "Stay Young, Go Dancing"
    Released: 2011

Codes and Keys is the seventh studio album by Death Cab for Cutie, released on May 31, 2011. Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer have both been quoted as saying that the album will be "a much less guitar-centric album than we’ve ever made before".[3] The first single, "You Are a Tourist", was made available for online stream on March 28, 2011 on the band's official site[4] and the album was available for streaming in its entirety on May 23, 2011 on NPR.[5]


Recording and production

Influenced by the album, Another Green World, by Brian Eno, Codes and Keys was recorded in eight different studios, using Logic Pro software. The band would record in each studio for no longer than two weeks, with vocalist and guitarist Benjamin Gibbard noting, "We're all moving into a period in our lives where family is very important. So living off in the woods for a month away from family isn't something we want to do. On this record I've written a couple songs in our downtime between studios and we start recording that brand new song on the first day of the next session, which is something we've never really had the opportunity to do before."[6]

During its recording, Gibbard stated: "It's not a guitar-based record. We've been into vintage keyboards and playing with that palette. We're not adding guitars because people will be expecting them. I'm so proud of this album that at this point I don't care if people don't like it."[6] Guitarist and producer Chris Walla elaborated further, "We're thirteen or fourteen years, and seven or eight albums – depending how you count – into this, and it just seemed like a good time to not make a really guitar-centric, guitar-focused record."[7] Walla later stated: "guitar is great; it’s a really immediate, impulsive sort of instrument. But I think if we had strapped on guitars and gone into the studio with the intent of making a sort of live-ish sounding record, we definitely would've retreaded some of the territory that we were in for Narrow Stairs. None of us really wanted to do that, but it took us a little while to figure out how to do it differently; how to find something that would work."[8]

Walla's production was influenced by Dazzle Ships by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem, New Order and the David Bowie album, Low, with Walla noting, "They really lean on a particularly technological bent. I wanted to do that. I wanted less photograph, more impressionism."[9] Walla elaborated, "[Codes and Keys] was an exercise in using an entirely different tool set. [...] the whole record ended up being this big experiment, which was really exciting. [...] We were really happy with Narrow Stairs, but we could make a record like that in our sleep. It’s just so second-nature and so simple. I still think there’s a lot more to explore [in] the way we made this record. And I think we’ll probably continue on a similar trajectory and see where we end up on the next album."[9]

The album was mixed by Alan Moulder, with Walla noting: "I've mixed [all of the band's previous albums] except for this one. I’d been toying with it for a couple of records now. [...] It was really just a matter of trying to find the right person for this, to mix a Death Cab record, and Alan was my first choice. I was thrilled that he was able to do it. I'd been a huge fan of his for years and years so it was super exciting to get to work with him. He’s kind of one of my heroes, he’s made a bunch of my favourite records, so it was awesome."[8]

Writing and composition

Lyricist Benjamin Gibbard notes that the album's lyrical content and themes differ from their previous studio album, Narrow Stairs (2008). Influenced by his recent move to Los Angeles, following his marriage to Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard states: "There's a level of self-loathing in Narrow Stairs that I'm a bit of embarrassed about now. It's a really dark record. I didn't want to make that record again. I didn't want to write those songs again. [...] Everything I write is reflective of my own life and the lives of those people around me. They reflect the conversations you have and the rumblings of life around you. But when somebody gets married, people assume that they're going to get a certain thing out of an album."[6] Gibbard later stated, however: "I would be remiss if I tried to continue writing in a solely melancholic voice, given the fact that now I'm a married man."[7]

With Codes and Keys, the experimental side of the band was drawn out more through production than a set songwriting process. Nicholas Harmer stated: "The making of this album was a little more open-ended as far as submitting different ideas if there were openings or holes for ideas to be submitted, but I think a lot of the experimentation came from the production side more than it did from the writing side."[10]

According to Gibbard, guitarist and producer Chris Walla's writing contributions were key during the album's writing and recording: "There are a few songs that Chris wrote all the music for. I cut and pasted and wrote lyrics and arrangements for them. This is the first time that we've had multiple compositions that started with Chris's demos and not mine, which is exciting."[6] Gibbard continued to praise Walla's contributions, stating: "I'm down with Chris screwing around with what he wants to do. He's yet to lead us down the wrong path. I think we're constantly trying to reinvent the band without losing sight of who we are. I don't feel like we went all Kid A on everyone. But there are moments on this record where we looked at each other and said, 'Oh, man, fans of The Photo Album (2001) are going to wonder what's going on here.'"[11]

Walla commented on writing contributions, stating: "If I’m starting something from the ground up, either I’ve got a melody in my head or I’ve got a feeling that I’m chasing. It’ll be something impressionistic; it’ll be like trying to take a feeling or something that’s happening environmentally and trying to bottle that and turn it into a piece of music. Both the things that I started as instrumentals for this record were written largely out of a place of procrastination. I think I was supposed to be mixing someone else’s record, or something, but I had some idea that I couldn’t get out of my head and I just needed to crash through it."[8]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[2]
BBC (positive)[12]
Entertainment Weekly (A)[13]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[14]
New York Times (positive)[15]
NME (7/10)[16]
Pitchfork Media (5.0/10)[17]
Popmatters (4/10)[18]
Spin (8/10)[19]
Slant Magazine 3/5 stars[20]

Codes and Keys has received generally positive reviews. On the review aggregate site Metacritic, the album has a score of 72 out of 100, indicating "Generally favorable reviews."[21]

Entertainment Weekly's Kyle Anderson gave the album a very positive review, writing "It's a reminder to the rest of the pretty-rock community that loveliness is worthless if there's no heart behind it, and Death Cab's beats stronger than most."[13] Jon Pareles of the New York Times also gave the album a positive review, calling Codes and Keys a better album than the band's previous album Narrow Stairs. Pareles concluded his review with: "This album doesn’t try to rejuvenate Death Cab for Cutie by reverting to the sound the band had in the late 1990s. Now, it’s a band of grown-ups still eager to evolve."[15] BBC's Ian Winwood called the album "an understated and subtly magnificent pleasure."[12]

Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork Media, on the other hand, gave Codes and Keys a mixed review, calling the album "chilly, diffident, and emotionally distant." Fitzmaurice also compared the album negatively to Death Cab for Cutie's earlier work, writing "...even when the band revisits past glories on Codes and Keys' few highlights, Death Cab weirdly sound like they are imitating themselves."[17] Popmatters' Evan Sawdey gave the album a negative review, writing "this is the sound of Death Cab at their most generic, disjointed, and disinterested. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is this: Codes & Keys is the worst album of their career."[18]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Benjamin Gibbard, except "Home Is a Fire", "Unobstructed Views" and "Underneath The Sycamore" composed by Gibbard and Chris Walla

No. Title Length
1. "Home Is a Fire"   4:04
2. "Codes and Keys"   3:22
3. "Some Boys"   3:11
4. "Doors Unlocked and Open"   5:37
5. "You Are a Tourist"   4:47
6. "Unobstructed Views"   6:11
7. "Monday Morning"   4:19
8. "Portable Television"   2:53
9. "Underneath The Sycamore"   3:27
10. "St. Peter's Cathedral"   4:30
11. "Stay Young, Go Dancing"   2:50


The following people contributed to Codes and Keys:[24]

Death Cab for Cutie
  • Benjamin Gibbard – lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards
  • Nicholas Harmer – bass guitar, guitar
  • Jason McGerr – drums, percussion
  • Chris Walla – guitar, backing vocals, piano, keyboards
Additional musicians
  • Magik*Magik Orchestra – strings ("Codes and Keys", "Stay Young, Go Dancing")
  • Minna Choi – arrangements, conducting
  • Krish Lingala – oboe, theremin
Recording personnel
  • Chris Walla – producer, recording, mixing ("Home is a Fire", "Codes and Keys")
  • Beau Sorenson – recording, mixing ("Codes and Keys")
  • Alan Moulder – mixing
  • Roger Siebel – mastering
  • Sean Oakley – recording assistant (Sound City)
  • Dave "Squirrel" Covell – recording assistant (Sound City)
  • Sally Pickett – recording assistant (Sound City)
  • Mark Richards – recording assistant (Sound City)
  • Adam Greenholtz – recording assistant (The Warehouse)
  • Ryan Enockson – recording assistant (The Warehouse)
  • Stephen Hogan – recording assistant (London Bridge)
  • Jackson Long – recording assistant (Two Sticks Audio)
  • John Vanderslice – recording assistant (Tiny Telephone)
  • Jay Pellicci – recording assistant (Tiny Telephone)
  • Pierre de Reeder – recording assistant (Bright Street Recorders)
  • Kendra Lynn – recording assistant (Jackpot! Recording)
  • Stuart Hallerman – recording assistant (Avast Recording)
  • Johnny Mendoza – recording assistant (Avast Recording)
  • Cathy Ferrante – recording assistant (Avast Recording)
  • Catherine Marks – mixing assistant
  • John Catlin – mixing assistant
  • Nicholas Harmer – front cover, "coin slot" photograph
  • Storey Elementary – additional photography and design



Chart (2011) Peak
UK Albums Chart 24[25]
U.S. Billboard 200 3[26]
Australian ARIA Albums Chart 7[27]


Year Song Peak positions
US Alt
US Rock
2011 "You Are a Tourist" 1 3
2011 "Home is a Fire"
2011 "Stay Young, Go Dancing" 32 43
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.


  1. ^ Belbin, Ryan. Death Cab For Cutie | Codes and Keys. The Independent. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Leahey, Andrew. Codes and Keys - Death Cab for Cutie. Allmusic. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  3. ^ "Progress Report: Death Cab For Cutie". Stereogum. December 10, 2010. Retrieved December 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ "You Are A Tourist / New Single Streaming Now". Death Cab for Cutie. March 28, 2011. Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ Thompson, Stephen (2011). "First Listen: Death Cab For Cutie, 'Codes And Keys'". NPR. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d Goodman, William (October 29, 2010). "Ben Gibbard "So Proud" of New Death Cab Album". Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Gitner, Jess (May 25, 2011). "Death Cab For Cutie: Getting Older, Staying Honest". NPR. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Nils, Hay (June 3, 2011). "Interview: Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie)". Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Wallen, Doug. "Death Cab For Cutie – interview – Interviews". Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  10. ^ Carlick, Stephen. "Death Cab for Cutie – Pressure's Off • Interviews •". Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  11. ^ Kot, Greg (May 19, 2011). "Death Cab for Cutie profile; Death Cab for Cutie interview". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Winwood, Ian. Review of Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys. BBC. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  13. ^ a b Anderson, Kyle. Codes and Keys (2011) - Death Cab For Cutie. Entertainment Weekly. 8 June 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  14. ^ Petridis, Alexis. Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys - review. The Guardian. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  15. ^ a b Pareles, Jon. Death Cab for Cutie, Christina Perri, Kina Grannis - New CDs. New York Times. 30 May 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  16. ^ Parker, Rob. Album Review: Death Cab for Cutie - 'Codes'. NME. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  17. ^ a b Fitzmaurice, Larry. Death Cab For Cutie: Codes and Keys. Pitchfork Media. 1 June 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  18. ^ a b Sawdey, Evan. Death Cab for Cutie: Codes & Keys. Popmatters. 1 June 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  19. ^ Wood, Mikael. Death Cab for Cutie, 'Codes and Keys' Atlantic. Spin. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  20. ^ Cole, Matthew. Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys. Slant Magazine 25 May 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  21. ^ Critic Reviews for Codes and Keys. Metacritic. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  22. ^ Codes and Keys (Deluxe Version) by Death Cab for Cutie. iTunes. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  23. ^ Godes And Keys DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE. Retrieved 02 September 2011.
  24. ^ Death Cab For Cutie - Codes And Keys (CD, Album). Discogs. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  25. ^ DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE. The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  26. ^ Codes and Keys - Death Cab for Cutie. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  27. ^ Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  28. ^ a b Codes and Keys - Charts - Singles. Allmusic. Retrieved 25 July 2011.

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