REVIEW: Death Cab For Cutie – ‘Kintsugi’


Artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Title: Kintsugi
Label: Atlantic Records
Genre: Indie

Since forming in 1997, Death Cab For Cutie had never named a record until after it was finished, at which point they would all pitch ideas to one another and decide on a title together. This was the norm for over 15 years and 7 albums, until last summer, when bassist Nick Harmer ran across a tag so painstakingly applicable that it immediately stuck.

“The album’s called Kintsugi,” Harmer revealed to Rolling Stone this past January. “It’s a Japanese style of art where they take fractured, broken ceramics and put them back together with very obvious, real gold. It’s making the repair of an object a visual part of its history. That resonated with us as a philosophy, and it connected to a lot of what we were going through, both professionally and personally.”

This refined worldview should come as no surprise to those who have stuck by the Seattle outfit since their last release, Codes and Keys. In December 2012, frontman Ben Gibbard parted ways with Zooey Deschanel, his wife of two years and star of Fox’s New Girl. Then, last August, guitarist Chris Walla announced that he would be leaving the band after nearly two decades. That’s enough to make almost any act crumble, and coming off their most divisive effort to date, there were surely many that thought Death Cab’s December sun was finally starting to set.

But rather than buckle at the knees, Gibbard and his cohorts regrouped and set off on a new journey, allowing their past missteps to collectively guide them towards greener pastures.

“This is an opportunity for the band to become something it could only become by losing a founding member,” Gibbard explained during the same Rolling Stone interview. “And I would hope that as we move forward, people listen with as little prejudice as they can and try to hear the music for what it is and not what they want it to be.”

As the 38-year-old’s sincerity implies, Kintsugi ventures into newfound territories often and without hesitation, and while this wandering feels far more organic than the piano-driven arrangements of Codes, there are still times when the group too readily embraces cliché. Though not a total misfire, Death Cab’s eighth studio effort is dynamic, but disjointed, serving as a reminder that sometimes the future can be just as daunting as the past.

Still, hapless progression aside, longtime fans will no doubt feel right at home throughout the opening tracks of Kintsugi. “No Room In Frame” is spacious and introspective, propelled forward by Gibbard’s sharp lyrics and some chugging accompaniment. Despite the weight of his words, the frontman has clearly moved past the track’s topic matter, and this meditative analysis of the past feels fresh and powerful. Contemplative without contempt, he is writing for himself and no one else, and the results are undeniable.

The album’s lead single, “Black Sun,” follows. A dark and brooding number, it is cleverly vague in its heartbreak, allowing listeners to lose themselves in hypnotic guitar lines and subtle synth. In much the same way, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” is straightforward but effective, bringing to mind the fast-paced nature of the band’s earlier undertakings. “Little Wanderer” is also a surefire favorite, boasting what is arguably the album’s biggest, most memorable hook.

It is at this point where DCFC throw nostalgia to the wind and take on a whole new identity. This is not to say that they “run out of steam,” but there is a very apparent sonic shift about halfway through Kintsugi that is unavoidable, and at times, hard to swallow. All at once, accessible songwriting seems to take a backseat to mainstream structure, and though these latter tracks contain some of Walla’s best riffs, it took a lot of listening for me to get on board.

Equally charming and cheesy, “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” seems made for the climax of a rom com, but will stick to the walls of your brain if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for “Hold No Guns,” the album’s only full-on acoustic track. Sparse and seemingly endless, it didn’t do a lot for me the first time I heard it, and it still doesn’t do a lot for me now.

“Everything’s A Ceiling” will inevitably cause some eye-rolling, but isn’t terrible, while “El Dorado” feels forced and out of place, especially when paired alongside the infectious toe-tapper that is “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find).” “Ingenue” would be forgettable if not for its humming instrumentals, whereas the closer, “Binary Sea,” is just the opposite, drawing its power from simple chord progressions and velvety vocal lines.

Though Kintsugi is not the opus I was hoping for, it’s hard to fault one of my favorite bands for trying new things, especially after nearly two decades of writing together. If Death Cab For Cutie’s latest offering proves anything, it is that they are far from finished regardless of what the future may hold.

SCORE: 7.75/10
Review written by Kyle Florence

Kyle Florence

Kyle Florence is a proud Wisconsinite, a dinosaur enthusiast, and a lover of all things weird and whacky.
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