By: A&E Editor Melissa Peng
Indie giant Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album Kintsugi is a landmark in the band’s illustrious, decades-long history. While former lead guitarist Chris Walla has produced every other DCFC album since their debut in 1997, Kintsugi will be the first to feature an outside producer. Even the title is a reference to Walla’s departure: kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing pottery using gold lacquer, thus embracing rather than hiding the object’s fractures. Even so, Kintsugi packs plenty of the soft, melancholy melodies that have made Death Cab for Cutie famous.
Too often, however, the album completely loses its momentum. Tracks like “Good Help,” “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” and “Ingenue,” are utterly forgettable. In these, the standard DCFC trappings—lead singer Ben Gibbard’s straightforward delivery, somewhat cheesy extended metaphors—feel more like formulaic fluff than anything else. Kintsugi’s doldrums are bland and almost annoyingly repetitive.
That said, Kintsugi has quite a few high notes. The choruses of “Little Wanderer” and “No Room in Frame” feature ridiculously catchy lilts that absolutely beg the replay button. Infectious and even dancey, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” brings upbeat energy to DCFC’s usually somber repertoire, doing for Kintsugi what “The Sound of Settling” did for Transatlanticism. Another refreshing change of pace comes with the ballad “Hold No Guns,” whose minimal instrumentals leave room for the emotion in Gibbard’s vocals to shine.
Like many other songs off Kintsugi, “Hold No Guns” impresses because it’s so personal. When Gibbard sings in the chorus, “My love why do you run? / For my hands hold no guns … / No not a one” it’s hard not to pine with him. “No Room In Frame” is one of the best songs on the album for similar reasons. Gibbard tells us the story of his own divorce and the sincerity shows in both his lyrics and his vocals. Kintsugi moves away from constructing third person narratives and instead exposes more intimate struggles.
As such, Kintsugi’s title can be interpreted to refer to more than just the band’s attempted bounce back from Walla’s departure. Kintsugi is more importantly an album of emotional recovery. Gibbard lays his feelings bare for all the world to hear and makes no secret of the fact that he’s been broken time and time again. Instead, Death Cab for Cutie turns these vulnerabilities into art.