Death Cab For Cutie-Kintsugi

Released 3/31/2015 via Atlantic Records

5/7 stars

Good music, the kind of music that sticks with you long after the song ended, isn’t about a specific time or place. Sure, you can argue that there are exceptions, but the best songs deal with themes. Themes of love, sadness, remorse, anger, bigger ideas that as humans with emotions, we can identify with and have that moment of clarity this song was literally written for me, about my life.

You know that feeling right?

Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie’s eight album and their first without guitarist/producer Chris Walla is an album of themes. The overarching theme is the sense of drifting apart. It’s a breakup album for sure, but it’s not necessarily about a breakup between two lovers. It’s a breakup between the band that’s been making music for the better part of the past 17 years. It’s not the raw, emotional breakup; rather it’s that point where both sides realize there’s nothing more to do or say rather than slowly drift away and move on with their lives.

The album title refers to a type of Japanese art when shattered pottery is reconstructed and melded together with pieces of gold, ultimately creating something more beautiful. It’s an obvious reference to the loss of Walla in the band and lead singer Ben Gibbard’s divorce. In the end, these losses are felt, the album sounds less cohesive and more like single tracks, and of course, there are the quintessential Death Cab songs that allude to Gibbard’s heartbreak.

Like so many other songs and albums in Death Cab’s discography, there’s an overall sense on melancholy dripping from  Gibbard’s voice. In the album opener, “No Room in Frame,” an obvious ode to Gibbard’s publicized divorce from the She in She & Him, Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard sings “was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you?/no room in frame for two.” Gibbard rarely writes from personal experience, but he excels in this song. It’s easiest the strongest on the album; despite the rather sad subject matter, the song evokes this calm feeling. And of course, it’s “No Room in Frame” that has maybe one of my favorite Death Cab lyrics of all time “and we’ll both go on and get lonely with someone else,” because really, is there a more Death Cab way to say you’re sleeping with someone else?

“How could/something/so fair/be so cruel?” Ah, there’s the brooding Gibbard that we missed on Codes and Keys. “Black Sun,” the lead single from Kintsugi, with its killer guitar midway through the track and the palpable disdain dripping from Gibbard’s vocals, is a prime example of Death Cab trying to win back the fans they lost. Although at first, the track sounds like it’s trying to do something sonically different, there are more than just subtle hints of “Tiny Vessels” from perhaps the most celebrated album in the band’s discography, Tranatlanticism.

Since I first heard “Transatlanticism” some years ago, I realized that few things can be more satisfying than Ben Gibbard’s voice, a guitar, some drums, and melancholy lyrics. “You’ve Haunted Me My Whole Life” is not going to be everyone’s favorite song on this album. It’s slow, depressing and simple. In other words, the perfect Death Cab song. With lyrics like “there’s a flaw in my heart’s desire/I keep trying to make you mine,” this song will be the soundtrack to another generation’s first heartache, just like “Transatlanticism” or “The Ice Is Getting Thinner” or even “A Movie Script Ending.”

That’s what Death Cab is good at, they’re good at capturing those feelings of first love and first heartache, being alone, feeling helpless and angry. It’s when the band strays from those themes, that’s when they run into trouble. It’s why Codes and Keys was met with so much negative criticism and it’s why certain tracks on Kintsugi glimmer like the gold in the broken pottery, whereas other songs fall flat.

“Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)” is one of those songs that sound out of place. Although Gibbard’s vocals are great, the synths are too much, almost overpowering. However, it cannot be argued that Gibbard’s voice does not mesh well with experimental sound because of his work with Postal Service, rather the production on the track just is not that good.

The lowest point on the album comes at its very end with “Binary Sea.” It’s too bad that the album starts out so strong with “No Room in Frame,” just to end with such a dud. “Binary Sea” just doesn’t sound like Death Cab and I simply cannot understand the thinking process behind closing out what otherwise is a very solid album with this number.

As March closes, there has already been an utterly staggering amount of great music released in 2015. However, for the most part these stellar songs and albums have come from lesser known names. The big names that have been taking over the headlines, from Modest Mouse to the Decemberists, have all put out some pretty underwhelming albums. With Kintsugi, Death Cab does their best to escape the same fate. And they do, just by a thread, thanks to Gibbard’s ability to still encapsulate emotion into relatable lyrics. It’s 2015 and it would just be naive to expect another Transatlanticism, these guys are married, divorced and in their thirties, however, given those factors, Kintsugi is exactly what you would expect.

Must Listens:

“No Room In Frame”

“You’ve Haunted Me My Whole Life”

“Black Sun”