Review: Kintsugi by Death Cab for Cutie
Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Genre: Indie Rock
Recommended if you like: The Postal Service, The Shins, Minus the Bear, The Decemberists
Kintsugi is Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth full length album and not the let down we’ve all been expecting. With Ben Gibbard’s anticipated emotional state following his divorce and the news that this is the last album with Chris Walla, the band’s integral member and producer/engineer, I had a bit of spare hope for this album. And it was tremendously exceeded.
Most people, like myself, jumped on the Death Cab train with Plans and Transatlanticism, but my appreciation for this album lies in knowledge of their whole discography. Beginning with Gibbard’s demo You Can Play These Songs with Chords; it was pretty raw, but really defined his sound with songs like “Line of Best Fit” and “Pictures in an Exhibition.” He formed a band and their debut album was Something About Airplanes. A bit lo-fi but never the less very foundational and pure emotion- “Fake Frowns” to this day is one of my favorite Death Cab songs.
Next came Photo Album, or as my fiance calls it, “Molly’s brooding music”. It is deep and strong, like the nights where you lay in bed with the lights on and think about all the directions your life might have taken. It is the purest form of art this band has made, at least in my lowly opinion. In “Styrofoam Plates,” Gibbard sings of a funeral of an absent father, where by the end of the song I think I hate the father more than the son does. Death Cab creates a relationship with the listener and invests them in the lyrics like you’re reading an enthralling book.
Then Plans and Transatlanticism happened. These were Death Cab’s hey day for sure, launching it into mainstream(ish). They maintained the beauty and deep emotional capture of Photo Album. They still had a strong “Wow, my life kind of sucks” after taste, but a few songs leave you feeling like you might have a positive outlook on the state of things, like “Sound of Settling” and “Crooked Teeth.” But “Death of an Interior Decorator” makes me want to bawl my freaking eyes out and “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” will probably be played at my funeral. Do not let my tone affect your opinion of the album or me- these were AMAZING albums, I just can’t listen unless I have a strong resolve to not enter a depression.
Moving on we will start using succinct language again with Narrow Stairs. Here begins the decline – in my opinion – but some say it’s the next album. It is incredibly sad that this album was released after Plans because how the hell do you compete with that? “Cath” and “Grapevine Fires” are singularly amazing songs and competitive, but theres a tone to the album that feels a bit… forced. Death Cab had a huge fan base at this point and about three albums of the same freaking depressing theme. A combination of these and probably many other things made this album disappointing.
Codes and Keys was probably the biggest disappointment of my life, besides my major not working out. A happy Ben Gibbard does not make good music – at this point he was married to Zooey Desc…something and living in LA despite the song “Why You’d Want to Live Here” off of the Photo Album. This happiness came out well in “Stay Young, Go Dancing”, but not so well for everything else on the album.
Now we arrive back at Kintsugi. At this point anything that didn’t sound like Codes and Keys would make me happy. But they not only avoided that, but went all the way back to Photo Album, which you all know I’m fond of. Ben Gibbard begins telling stories again with his music, where you feel the story rather than listen to it. He just stops trying so hard by going back to the sound that they succeed in so well, though luckily more happy. There’s still a couple of pop-y tunes like “Good Help (Is so Hard to Find)” where you feel like you’re biking through leafy streets, and “Everything’s a Ceiling” with a ridiculous, but good synth rhythm. These songs aren’t the “original sound,” but capture the sound Death Cab’s pretty good at making now.
My happiness lies in the the fact that when I heard “Little Wanderer,” I closed my mind and just started absorbing the sound like it could refill my soul. Yes I know, but it’s true. You don’t want anything from the song, you’re just so okay with taking everything that Death Cab’s giving you. The album’s first song “No Room in Frame” made me hesitate as it begins just too catchy, but then it quickly opens up into a beautiful melody and introduces a guitar that plucks you through a story of maybe not lost love, but hope?
Some songs leave you a bit disappointed like “Hold No Guns” and “1/2 of Binary Sea,” but it’s already impressive they got this far with their incredibly successful past glooming over them and their impending breakup with Chris.
Basically I wrote this whole thing because people keep hating on this album. I just want to pause and look at what Death Cab has given us and evaluate how they’ve developed their sound through the years. Now, they have moved back to something nostalgic to mark the closure that both the fans and the band deserve with the departure of Chris.
I’ll be looking forward to what Death Cab produces in the future, but also to what Walla is going to offer the world with his independence. They hate us cause they aint us, right?
7 out of 10 would listen to repeatedly with caution