Death Cab For Cutie - Kintsugi

by Jessikah Hope Stenson

Four years in the waiting, Kintsugi is the eighth LP from Death Cab For Cutie. Most are wondering if Death Cab For Cutie can keep releasing well-received songs. Although most critics have been citing Kintsugi as “average,” I would give Death Cab a little less credit.

Kintsugi is undoubtedly a strange name for an album. It comes from the philosophy of treating repair as part of history, rather than something to disguise. This specifically relates to the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery, yet seems relevant to Chris Walla’s decision to leave the band. Fortunately for fans, this suggests there’s no bad blood. Also, despite Chris Walla’s announcement that he was leaving the band, he still contributed heavily towards this album and co-produced it.

Lead single, Black Sun, opens with a guitar riff that could have come straight from a Linkin Park album. I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed this throw back to rock from ten years ago. Nonetheless, Death Cab For Cutie transition into their own familiar sound quickly. Both Black Sun and No Room In Frame have a relaxed vibe and, in a strange way, are suitable for summer. There’s a strong balance of guitar/drum/vocal volume and focus, boasting each layer as a generous addition to the tracks.

Unusually, the slow songs feature early in the album. Little Wanderer is monotonous, with little charm or incentive to listen to it for a second time. You’ve Haunted Me All My Life is also repetitive. Nonetheless, delicate harmonies are whispered throughout and the drums echo in a haunting fashion which are clever and definitely boost the song into pleasant listening. But if it’s Ben Gibbard’s vocals you are looking for – listen to Hold No Guns. Gibbard is backed by a single guitar, emphasising the lyrical message which is summarised “My love, why do you run?”

As Kintsugi progresses, Everything’s A Ceiling speeds the pace of the album with layered beats. Much like Little Wanderer and the other slow songs, it’s impossible to point out the peak of the song. It’s disappointing and left me thinking “That was a long build up to nothing”. This makes most the songs on the album the type that if you switched on the radio, you would have no idea which part of the song you were at.

However, Good Help (Is So Hard To Find) provides a minor rescue for Kintsugi. The fast riff lifts the album from the drudge of songs that preceded it. Plus, El Dorado opens with another fantastic guitar riff. The stop-start nature of this riff and fast drumming is enchanting and you can almost forget the rest of the album.

At the closing end of Kintsugi, Death Cab For Cutie return to the slugglish songs from the middle. Ingenue seems like it might work well in live performance – the clapping sounds and a cappella used would inspire some great audience interaction. However, as a studio recording, the song lacks a clear atmosphere. It’s more like a mash-up of interesting sounds. It left me emotionless and I could have gone without listening to it.

Closing song, Binary Sea, is the only track that incorporates keys. It feels less like a song contributing to an album and more of a sluggish outro. The lyrics rhyme predictably and feel overly-simple because of this. Plus, there’s one of those annoying guitar screechy outro-s for the final thirty seconds – what could be more annoying?

If you can remove songs from an album (which can be said about many songs in Kintsugi) then they aren’t worth being in the album in the first place. If Black Sun, The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive and El Dorado formed an EP, that would have been a brilliant release. Those singles are definitely worth a listen, but the rest can easily be overlooked. This fantasy EP would have filled listeners with the confidence that Death Cab For Cutie have got a lot more to give. But, now, I’m not so sure.