This album came out in what, late spring? After Plans (along with Gimme Fiction) started to change my view of modern rock in 2005 and Narrow Stairs followed as a worthy complement, this year’s Codes & Keys struck me as a serious step backward. I listened to it two or three times and moved on.
Now, it’s time for end-of-year reviews. Could it really have been so bad? Well, not exactly. But it is the most confusing (and possibly confused) record I heard this year.
When the pulsing but light electronic bed of rhythm and ambiance sets up under (and then over) a minimalist guitar in the opening “Home Is A Fire”, I like it. Sounds good in general. The neat, quick ending that decays away? Also a plus. Could my dismissal have been as simple as the difference between approaching the first listen while thinking “I hope they’ve made another good one,” versus “I’m probably not going to like this very much”?
Sadly, no. It turns out Codes & Keys does, in fact, mislead the listener and kneecap itself by taking two of the three weakest recordings on the album and making them half of the first four tracks.
The title song, with its kick drum thud and a pounding saloon upright, has no exceptional quality. But that’s better than “Some Boys”, where “some boys” are doing this, that, and the other, but that’s OK because “some boys don’t know how to love.” And it gets worse: “Some boys are filling the hole” while “some boys are sleeping alone.” Srsly? Lonely teenage boys, as I recall, also write better poetry than that (and to be clear, they don’t write good poetry). Also, *that* is the pivotal third song on a DCFC record? Dumbfounded.
“St. Peter’s Cathedral” gets extra fruit cup for echoing two sentiments I share: the title building is awe-inspiring, and when you die, you die. I admire any band who takes pains to make either of those points clear.
Things never get that bad again. A couple of other songs (“Doors Unlocked And Open”, “Unobstructed Views”) hint at a decent departure of an album that could’ve been good, say, for listening while driving alone on the Autobahn on a cloudy day. But an actual guitar riff(!) pops up on “You Are A Tourist”, and most of the second half is a demonstrably more energetic, better constructed, more interesting (and interested) batch of music.
I have to mention the last two tracks. “St. Peter’s Cathedral” gets extra fruit cup for echoing two sentiments I share: the title building is awe-inspiring, and when you die, you die. I admire any band who takes pains to make either of those points clear. Do both, and you’re doing something that qualifies as art, if not necessarily great art.
Divide and Conquer?
Depending on how you care to look at it, DCFC either had the grace or lacked the chutzpah to end the record on that note, instead capping with an antidote in “Stay Young, Go Dancing”. A six-string acoustic makes a cameo to inject some warmth, alongside some strings and a refrain of “life is sweet …”
In the end, Codes & Keys sounds like two different thoughts about how the record should be made, each denied full authority and forced to share a small office together. Both have their imperfections, but the decision to display the worst so prominently is perplexing. The Autobahn record had potential. The more traditional record was off to a decent start, too.
In an age where a running order has gone from a set-in-stone mandate to a mere suggestion — if you even fetched the whole album in the first place — maybe Codes & Keys requires only a little trimming, a little denial, and a little sequencing to finally become the two decent EP’s it wants to be.