By your seventh album, it would be quite possible for a band to rest on their laurels and put out whatever is expected. Death Cab for Cutie took an entirely different route altogether for their now year-old seventh album, Codes and Keys. "Our sound has always shifted as a band," bassist Nicholas Harmer says. "We write from a place of honesty and reflect what's going on in our lives."
It makes sense then that the albums progress along with band – and despite the evolution of their sound, the album has still managed to succeed commercially and critically over the past 13 months. But let's not pass by their latest album so quickly – Codes and Keys manages to take progression to a whole new level, and it merits some discussion as to how it was created, and more importantly – how it has been received. Harmer says, "The process of making Codes and Keys was the most fragmented that we've done in terms of time-on-time-off."
To call the recording of this album simply "fragmented" is a gross understatement. Codes and Keys turned into what guitarist/producer Chris Walla has taken to calling a "construction project." The band focused on capturing the best take of their parts – at times separately, at other times in pairs – and built songs by layering these performances (and other musical ideas) on top of each other. "We've deconstructed little pieces of songs before like this," Walla says. "[But] we've never pulled the thread out of the whole sweater and then made a new sweater out of it. Not like this."
Harmer further explains the recording process, "Chris [Walla] wanted to have an experience in all studios and what the album will sound like in each. He was sonically choosing the spaces we recorded in." What's most fascinating about Codes and Keys is its cohesiveness. "Sometimes we would only have two weeks in a studio," Harmer says, "Recording in different soundstages and studios kept us on a deadline."
Even though much of the album was recorded with each band member playing his part individually or in tandem with one other band member, the live performances have not suffered. "Recording like this didn't drastically change the song when we play live," Harmer says, "We're not concerned with perfectly recreating the material live."
The current tour is a "victory lap around the States," as Harmer puts it. And don't worry if you're seeing Death Cab on their own or as a part of a festival. "Our set doesn't change significantly. Festival audiences do not get a special laser show and pyro," says Harmer.
When talking about Detroit, Harmer remembers one specific night, "There was one night a few years back," he says. "The Red Wings must have won the Stanley Cup or something. It was pandemonium on the streets. Our tour bus was almost tipped over." He speaks of the tour bus incident in the most jovial way possible, "It was a party on the street unlike anything I've ever seen."
It's safe to say that when Death Cab for Cutie visits Meadowbrook on July 4, there is very little chance of the same pandemonium. However, Harmer also mentioned their Detroit shows have always been gorgeous. While there will be no Stanley Cup celebration, there are few things more delightful than a summer night in metro Detroit. | RDW
93.9 The River presents: Riverfest 2012 featuring Death Cab for Cutie and City and Colour • 7/4, 7 p.m. • Meadow Brook Music Festival • 3554 Walton Blvd., Rochester Hills • 248.377.0100 • palacenet.com • $25 lawn, $39.50 pavilion