there’s lions between us

William Fitzsimmons – Lions

Simple beauty is at heart in this video for “Lions” from William Fitzsimmons. Alone with his guitar in a workshop, he doesn’t need flash or glamour to draw his audience in – the music takes center stage and that’s all we really need. A master of melancholia, Fitzsimmons’s quiet tunes pack a punch that’ll knock you over. Catch him on tour this spring – he’s truly lovely live.

storm clouds break

I’ve been putting off listening to Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth LP. A bulk of the commentary surrounding the album was along the lines of “it’s too happy” – and no one listens to DCFC to put a smile on their face. Even the singable, upbeat “Sound of Settling” is really about anxiety and regret. In a recent interview, Death Cab’s (formerly) cheer(less) captain Ben Gibbard confirmed a seachange: “If the only reason you listen to Death Cab for Cutie is that you like maudlin, sometimes depressing lyrics, there’s no shortage of that kind of music for you to enjoy. Also, we have an entire back catalog of that shit.” We love that shit, Ben. But I see your point. I braced myself for the barrage of pop and newfound happiness, and was pleasantly surprised not to find the purported sunshine and rainbows everyone was so worked up about.

Now, this isn’t to say that Codes and Keys falls in the same sad-bastard category of some of the band’s previous releases; you will not find anything close to the emotional one-two punch of Transatlanticism and Plans. Nor will you find the sepia-toned romanticism the band was putting out ten years ago. Death Cab for Cutie is looking decidedly forward, but the future isn’t exactly bright.

There are a few cringe-inducing sentiments (let’s stay young forever! the leaves change color just for us!), but at heart DCFC is still a glass-is-half-empty kind of band. The most obvious example is “St. Peter’s Cathedral” with its atheist declaration “that when our hearts stop ticking / this is the end”. “Home Is a Fire” and “Codes and Keys” give the feeling of being trapped, with the former far out-pacing the latter in execution with piano and strings. Overall, the album gets more optimistic as it progresses, but words like happy, joy, and mirth aren’t rising to the top of the list of descriptors.

Codes and Keys also moves in a new direction musically, but keeps its roots firmly in indie territory. In general, the songs have more in common with the band’s earlier releases than their more recent output, but it’s augmented with a nice wash of grit and 90s-alt nostalgia. “You Are a Tourist” has a great melodic guitar line, and “Doors Unlocked and Open” surrounds you in the “ocean of sound”. The six-minute “Unobstructed Views” is solely instrumental for its first half, and while pretty the vocal effects and new-agey lyrics are off-putting (“there’s no eye in the sky / just our love”).

The stand-out track on Codes and Keys is “Underneath the Sycamore”. It jumps out as the front-runner partially because it has some sonic ties to Transatlanticism/Plans, but mostly because of the excellent instrumental break from 2:09-2:45. Angular guitars come slashing through, opening the way for slurring, bleating horns. At 2:24 comes a gut-punch of bass that makes you to stop as your breath catches and your heart sinks, only to be caught by the soar of fun-house strings. Then the bottom falls out and bells ascend to the chorus that pulls you back to the surface. It’s truly one of my favorite bits in the Death Cab oeuvre.

Most people probably aren’t going to have the same emotional connection to Codes and Keys as they did with the Death Cab for Cutie’s mid-career output. It’s not because Codes and Keys isn’t good, but because the album isn’t striving for that effect. It’s a rock album, not a diary entry. While heart-wrenching confessionals have been the band’s strong suit, trying to put out that kind of album when there’s no real-life inspiration to draw from would reek of inauthenticity. Do I not-so-secretly hope that Gibbard & Co. get bummed out again? Yes. Misery loves company and DCFC has been my emotional flat-mate for a decade now. Am I going to write off this album just because I don’t need to take to bed after listening? Absolutely not.

Codes and Keys dropped 05.31.11.
You can visit Death Cab for Cutie’s website here.


it’s a chemical reaction based upon attraction

For Telekinesis’s second full-length release, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner has again teamed up with producer Chris Walla for another stellar album. Where a long-distance relationship and quick production inspired Telekinesis!, 12 Desperate Straight Lines was borne of separation and discontent. Don’t let the surrounding circumstances scare you off, though – the album is highly listenable and has all the catchy hooks of its predecessor.

In addition to reuniting with Walla, Lerner brought back the players from interim EP Parallel Seismic Conspiracies – Cody Votolato [Blood Brothers] and Jason Narducy [Robert Pollard Band]. The songs are still recorded to tape, but the sound is a little richer, namely due to Lerner’s new love of fuzz-heavy bass.

12 Desperate Straight Lines is an all-around solid album, weaving lovable lyrics through the changing sounds, threading together beachy distortion (imagine Nirvana had been cast in a 60s-beach-party-movie remake for “Palm of Your Hand”) with ethereal, echoing “Patterns” and the aggressive “Fever Chill”. The first three songs, though, are the ones you won’t be able to stop listening to on repeat.

“You Turn Clear in the Sun” starts off with just Lerner’s voice and an acoustic guitar, but things quickly pick up with fuzzy bass, drums, bells and other sonic flourishes. Lerner is quick to air the dirty laundry – “I never loved you, I’ve never loved anyone,”  but despite the bummer the relationship turned out to be it’s an upper of a song. Telekinesis channels The Cure with track two’s guitars, and before long you’ll be dancing like the orange-shirted Peanuts kid and reveling in the sentiment of “you’ve got the salt / and I’ve got the wound / but all you got to do is ask.” Topping out the first quarter of the album is “50 Ways”, one of the best songs to emerge of late. Nodding to Paul Simon, Lerner calls him out by name and Telekinesis mimics Simon’s track in structure, but takes things in a darker direction. The interplay of plucked guitar and the grungy grind of the chorus is perfectly balanced and leaves listeners happy to wallow in their own obsessions of lovers who left – “I try to focus on anything else, but I keep on hearing your name.”

12 Desperate Straight Lines drops 02.15.11.
Get more info on Telekinesis here.
Download “Car Crash“.