Album Review: Death Cab For Cutie—“Kintsugi”

By Carey Roach

Listening to Death Cab for Cutie is always a nostalgic activity for me. It reminds me of my grade nine awkwardness, angst, and the Death Cab t-shirt that I wore for almost the entirety of that year. After a few disappointments from the band including 2011’s lackluster Codes and Keys, as well as Chris Walla’s departure, it seems as if Ben, Jason and Nick have finally recaptured their magic on the band’s eighth album, Kintsugi.

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Album art for Kintsugi

Kintsugi marks a return to the classic Death Cab tradition of being poignant and at least a little bit heartbreaking. The album name refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using gold lacquer. In many ways, the album is the musical equivalent of this; perhaps it is repairing Gibbard’s heart after his divorce from Zooey Deschanel, or the void that will eventually be left by Walla, who was still playing and producing with the band during the writing of this album.

The album’s first single, “Black Sun,” is Death Cab at their best — haunting, slightly dark, and totally addicting. Gibbard stays true to form by singing about being scorned by a woman. The themes of “Black Sun” carry through Kintsugi, as much of the album hints at the turmoil created by Gibbard’s divorce. Both the catchy and quick-paced “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find),” and “No Room in Frame” make wry and bitter references to Hollywood and celebrities that seem very directed at Deschanel.

As always, Ben Gibbard has a knack for expressing sadness in the most understated and beautiful ways possible on Kintsugi. Songs like “Little Wanderer” represent the challenges and disconnect of a long-distance relationship in a straightforward and heartbreaking manner. Overall, the pairing of melancholic lyrics with music that is light and upbeat, such as on “Everything’s a Ceiling,” has an unsettling and powerful effect that only Gibbard can produce.

Since this is Walla’s last album with the band, his signature atmospheric indie rock still his a large presence that will undoubtedly be missed. However, songs like the sparse “Hold No Guns” garner hope that the band will still be able to flourish without Walla’s guidance. Although the album lags at some points — songs like “El Dorado” are certainly not the band’s best work — Kintsugi is still a solid, enjoyable record with depth and variety.

The art of kintsugi is unique because it focuses on finding the beauty in what is broken. Death Cab for Cutie has been doing this for years, too, as they seem to verbalize the difficulties of life in a way that makes it manageable, and maybe even beautiful. All in all, Kintsugi makes me feel fourteen again in the best possible ways. The album reminds me of why I was so in love with Death Cab as a teenager — their ability to write catchy and interesting indie rock that manages to break listeners’ hearts still amazes me. (Atlantic)

Listen: “Black Sun”

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