The Designer’s Drugs: Digitalism/Death Cab

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Digitalism – I Love You, Dude

Anno: 2011


This is a simple, fun onslaught of high-intensity electropop songs that makes few missteps.  A block of songs in the center of the album comprise the collection’s best work: “Circles” anchors the piece as the mechanically frantic single, “Blitz” is a Daft Punk style instrumental, the well-named “Forrest Gump” is a suave track that buzzes and chimes at high swagger, “Reeperbahn” evokes the cinematic image of a vampire rave (whatever that’s worth), and “Antibiotics” is a popping, slithering tennis match of slightly malfunctioning basslines.  Each song on the bookends of I Love You, Dude is equally competent, but the middle is where the album hits its stride.

As a whole, the canny production on this album shows that Digitalism knows its audience and delivers.


Medium: Album

Stimulus: Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys

Anno: 2011


Having moved beyond the syrupy heartache that characterized much of its earlier work, Death Cab spends much of its latest album balancing those Hallmark sensibilities with the divergence seen on its preceding album, Narrow Stairs.  The resulting piece has the feel, more in the structure than the sound, of a Smashing Pumpkins album – Adore, in particular.  The deft combination of electronic and organic instrumentation, the highly accessible manner of bucking the established formula, and the grandiose execution this all centers around, all of this sounds very Pumpkinslike – not that this isn’t a very welcome thing.

(That said, it would also sound very fitting if Ben Gibbard’s vocals on “You Are a Tourist” or “Stay Young, Go Dancing” were replaced with Billy Corgan’s.)

The latter of those parenthetical songs is one of the best tracks on Codes and Keys, and its string-laden piano ballad sums up most of aspects of the album it concludes.  In contrast, the album’s opening track, “Home Is a Fire,” is more of a cyborg; in its core the music sounds very similar to “Stay Young”, but the subtle programming and sound effects make the songs sound very different.

Between these ends are a lot of songs with few threads in common combining to form an album that sounds cohesive.  And with the exception of the wistfully uptempo “Underneath the Sycamore,” there isn’t much of that old sad syrup to be digested.  Instead, Death Cab made a highly ambitious rock album that propels it to the level of bands that can get away with such things.

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