There's a bittersweet warmth to Death Cab for Cutie's music that's reminiscent of their Pacific Northwest origins. Like Washington state weather, their atmospheric indie pop feels shrouded by clouds moving to a melancholy lilt behind frontman Ben Gibbard's tender, understated boy-next-door tenor. The guitars gently waft amidst keyboard drizzle while Gibbard waxes philosophical with longing and existential ache, suggesting a less angst-ridden Conor Oberst.
The band began in the mid-'90s when a demo solo cassette by Gibbard attracted the attention of indie label Barsuk, prompting him to assemble a full band. Four albums of increasing craftsmanship culminated in 2003's Transatlanticism, an infectious mix of wistful introspection and cinematic indie rock. Aided by the success of Gibbard's one-off side project, Postal Service, the band made the jump to Atlantic Records for 2005's Plans. The album went platinum and earned a Grammy nomination, but reviews were middling thanks to greater polish and somewhat weaker songs. The band followed with 2008's Narrow Stars, a darker album recorded live-to-tape, giving it greater vibrancy and snap.
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May's more produced, less guitar-centric release, Codes & Keys, finds Gibbard uncharacteristically upbeat and hopeful following his marriage to actress Zooey Deschanel. The music moves with greater purpose and everything feels crisper and brighter, like Death Cab suddenly got their groove back.