If Death Cab for Cutie hovered just outside the circle of stardom in recent years the band from Bellingham, WA won’t remain there for much longer after Tuesday.
The band releases its eighth album Kintsugi on March 31 though you can already find it streaming on some sites. It’s a relaxing 11-song album that departs quite a bit from all its predecessors yet still sounds very much like Death Cab for Cutie. The now three-piece band, long time guitarist Chris Walla who performed on the album but left in September, composed an overall satisfying project that blends a bit of rock, some pop, and their signature indie sound into a notably more upbeat effort.
Don’t misunderstand, the slow stuff is there with the overtly repetitive chords and near a cappella vocals from Ben Gibbard. However, considering Kintsuki comes on the heels of Gibbard’s divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel, it doesn’t even compare (as in it’s much better) to Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, released last year on the heels of singer Chris Martin’s divorce from actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Kintsugi, by the way, is a Japanese form of art that fixes broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The resulting repair becomes part of the history of the object.
The album opens with “No Room in Frame” sounding very Death Cab at the start but then a fun beat ensues and shows a clear change from where the band was headed on Codes and Keys, their last effort from 2011. This is followed by the first single, already in heavy rotation and for good reason.
“Black Sun” is deep, dark, hypnotic and a powerful song. It’s by far the best on the album, arguably one of their finest, and the structure of the guitar solo (three minutes in) simply elevates this song as a great musical accomplishment. Just how do you compete with these lyrics: “There is grace within forgiveness/But it’s so hard for me to find.”
“The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” bucks the trends of past albums by bringing a melodious pop song that’s heavier on guitar, at least for Death Cab for Cutie, a catchy chorus and refrains from diving into that slow hyper-indie style music that defines so many of their other records. “Little Wanderer” is the fourth song and the fourth leaked as a single from the album. It’s got a memorable chorus and reverts a bit back to the band’s past releases but a more enjoyable listen.
Alas, classic Death Cab for Cutie is on full display with “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life.” It’s slow, simple, strips down the instrumentation and full of melancholy. But it’s orchestrated well, not boring and the lyrics should appeal to anyone going through a break-up or just flat out love sick.
Skip “Hold No Guns.” It’s everything that’s wrong with many of their past releases that helps dampen the rest of the solid songs and brings down the album as a whole.
“Everything’s a Ceiling” brings the album back from the prior abyss. “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)” has elements of 70’s disco and comes across as a great dance song. It’s quite different than the typical Death Cab song but could be an eventual single. “El Dorado” jumps a decade and maybe it’s because Gibbard sounds like a dead ringer for Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (and not just on this song!) but probably because of the subtle keyboards and that persisting drum cadence.
Gibbard does some experimentation with the vocals for “Ingenue” and finally “Binary Sea” which, well, by half way through exhausts itself, but both songs reflect much of what’s expected from the band. Nothing hard, emotional and certainly abstract lyrics, and sometimes simple instrumentation usually letting Gibbards vocals take the lead.
Death Cab for Cutie has carved out its own niche in the musical world. Kintsugi relies heavier on the guitar than prior efforts, especially Codes and Keys but they are far from a rock band yet the subtleties exist. Don’t expect soaring guitar solos, tricky drum fills, funky time signatures or heavy keyboard laden songs from Death Cab. If Indie pop, indie rock, (how about indi prog?) fits then so be it, but Death Cab for Cutie follows their own course that helps the band stand out from the rest of the mush out there and helps explain their tight following. The production of this album lifts it past their earlier albums especially the first few releases where the do-it-yourself approach felt almost purposely incorporated as an unseen instrument. Each album shows the band stretching but also keeping its core sound and there’s really no one else out there like them.
Overall, Kintsugi boasts the strong singles reminiscence of past records that create the backbone of the album, but the surrounding cast feels much less like fillers and instead pop the album up which gives it a cohesive energy. It’s definitely their best album.
Kintsugi Track List:
- No Room In Frame
- Black Sun
- The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
- Little Wanderer
- You’ve haunted Me All My Life
- Hold No Guns
- Everything’s A Ceiling
- Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)
- El Dorado
- Binary Sea