Death Cab rocks out on new album


  • Who: Death Cab for Cutie

  • When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

  • Where: Stage AE, 400 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh

  • Tickets: $32; call 330-747-1212 or visit

By John Benson

Before the recent release of Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio effort “Codes and Keys,” the alternative rock band warned fans the new project would feature less guitar than 2008 album “Narrow Stairs.” Death Cab drummer Jason McGerr elaborates on the band’s motivation for the latest CD.

“Every record is a reaction to the previous one,” said McGerr, calling from Seattle. “‘Narrow Stairs’ was like, ‘Let’s get the hell out of the laboratory and pick up four instruments and play rock ’n’ roll to a tape machine and make it as live as possible.’ So for ‘Codes and Keys,’ it was like we did that, we rocked out and we don’t want to be able to go pick up four instruments and play a song. We want to be challenged a bit more and hang songs on hooks that are made from old keyboards and strange sequences triggered by drum parts and use guitars as more colors than punctuations. Also, we wanted to take time. We had a start date but not a finish date and that’s why the record took 10 or 11 months.”

In reality, “Codes and Keys” has just enough guitar to satisfy diehard fans of Death Cab, which arrived in the mainstream nearly a decade ago with its 2003 effort “Transatlanticism.” In fact, in both tempo and feeling-wise, the new CD’s lead single, “You Are a Tourist” and the upbeat “Doors Unlocked and Open” could easily have appeared on “Narrow Stairs.” However, McGerr feels there are plenty of songs showcasing a more experimental or creative Death Cab for Cutie.

“I would say book-ending tracks ‘Home is a Fire’ and ‘Stay Young, Go Dancing’,” McGerr said. “‘Stay Young’ is probably one of the most positive songs the band has ever written and all records seem to end on a more melancholic note. The presentation of the strings and the acoustic and really lightheartedness of ‘Stay Young’ is a way we’ve never ended a record. On the other end, ‘Home Is a Fire’ is a totally different approach. It was a very collaborative writing process for that. If you stripped away the vocals from each song, I think it would sound like two radically different bands.”

When examining Death Cab’s evolution, the band’s mark has been made in its songwriting. Sure, every group presumably grows and explores new avenues, but the difference with the Ben Gibbard-led act is that the material — despite McGerr’s claim — never really seems to be a stretch.

That’s not a knock on the group; more of a compliment about presentation, musicality and songwriting. Unlike, say, AC/DC which seems to release the same-sounding tunes with different lyrics, Death Cab’s growth comes from its approach and its execution. Perhaps the best evidence to support this theory is the fact “Codes and Keys” album track “St. Peter’s Cathedral” actually dates back to its “Transatlanticism” era.

McGerr said he feels optimistic about the future of Death Cab.

“I feel like we’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to tour and how long to stay out and when it’s time to come home and when it’s time to take a break,” he said. “It’s all about the economy of motion of playing music and staying healthy.SDRq

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