Every Death Cab For Cutie album, bassist Nick Harmer says, is “a reaction directly to the album that we made previous to it.”
And that explains why the new “Codes and Keys,” the Washington State quartet’s seventh album overall, is such a different sonic animal from 2008’s chart-topping “Narrow Stairs.”
Unlike that set’s more raw and straightforward quality, “Codes and Keys” — which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 after its May 31 release — is more moody and textured, relegating guitars to the background in favor of an ambient, ethereal spareness that Harmer says disarmed even the band members at the beginning of the sessions.
“We definitely had a lot of headscratching moments,” Harmer, 36, says with a laugh. “I think it was just more of us getting used to giving ourselves over to the process than it was any sense of unhappiness with how things are going.
“It was just uncomfortable in the beginning. ... But once we got over the initial foreignness and really embraced the idea of things coming together in pieces and parts, it became really liberating in some ways, and fun. It was kind of great to throw lots of things at the songs and see what stuck.”
“Codes and Keys” does, of course, give Death Cab a new body of work that’s unlike anything else in its catalog, but Harmer says that hasn’t kept the group from integrating the material into its concerts.
“You’d be surprised at how well it fits into what we do,” he contends. “And, you know, it has never been a concern of ours, as a band, to capture the recording experience 100 percent with the live experience. We’ve always enjoyed that the live experience of our band has a slightly different energy than our recordings.
“We’ve always tended to, I don’t want to use the words ‘rock out’ ... but have more of an uptempo energy and a livelier expression around some of the songs. We’re playing the new songs like that, but I think the spirits of those songs are still translating just fine at the shows.”
Death Cab For Cutie and Frightened Rabbit perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $30-$45. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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