Album Review

Death Cab’s back, mellower than ever

(Frank Micelotta/Picture Group for Vh1)
May 30, 2011

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One of the most anticipated indie rock records of the summer is neither indie nor particularly rocking. The genre-defining band that rose to fame on the brush-stroked teardrop verses of singer Ben Gibbard’s epistolary romances has long since graduated from its humble indie origins, where deft, keenly observed albums like “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes’’ established its bona fides among the sad young literary men and women. Here on Death Cab for Cutie’s seventh record there’s little guitar to speak of, resulting in a more docile affair, even by the band’s already mellow standards. For the most part, demure keys and light atmospheric touches stand in for guitarist and sound architect Chris Walla’s traditionally vibrant (albeit measured) rock production, as on the title track and the piano meandering of “Some Boys.’’ On the latter, Gibbard offers a recurring motif, singing “some boys don’t know how to love.’’ Gibbard has proven he can lay waste to hearts sans guitar with his work in the Postal Service, but on prior Death Cab records the band’s interlocking layers of nervy riffing have undergirded his wistful lyrical sentiment and plaintive vocals with something the less swoon-inclined could sink their teeth into. The immediately engaging songs on “Codes and Keys’’ where this approach stays intact — like “Doors Unlocked and Open’’ and “You Are a Tourist’’ — are conspicuously rare. (Out tomorrow) LUKE O’NEIL

ESSENTIAL “Doors Unlocked and Open’’