Ben Gibbard sings “I don’t know where to begin…there’s too many things that I can’t remember,” in the opening line of Death Cab For Cutie‘s new album Kintsugi, which may be why there’s “no room in frame” for fans expectations to be fulfilled with every song. The first tune is one of four gems on the record, which makes us believe that we’re in for a completely satisfied experience. When the whole band brainstormed album title ideas, founding lead guitarist and producer Chris Walla was more focused on his own relationship with the band name, convinced that this cab ride of a musical journey is in sharp descent towards death.
The latest Death Cab For Cutie release comes at a pivotal time for the Bellingham, Washington indie rockers. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that fixes broken pottery, but the deeper meaning behind the derivation of their eighth album lies in the ancient philosophy of the term, which stresses that treatment for rupture and renovation of an object is essential to its history. This record marked the end of Chris Walla’s membership of the band, leaving Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer, and Jason McGerr three-fourths of an unfinished puzzle.
In Black Sun Gibbard sings, “There’s a dumpster in the driveway, of all the plans that came undone.” Perhaps these lyrics – as well as the album title – prove the record to be an imperfect piece of the band’s catalogue. This first single definitely does not excite this longtime Death Cab follower, because the song is very plain and uninteresting. Although the synths throughout the chorus sharpens the ears, the song is very repetitive and fails to dazzle as much as the songs on previous releases have.
The ears immediately perked up when we heard the upbeat, happy melody of Stay Young, Go Dancing on the last album Codes And Keys. However, the acoustic guitar driven You’ve Haunted Me All My Life on Kintsugi does not captivate our attention. Since a full band sound is usually incorporated on their studio albums, a Death Cab enthusiast would hope that more acoustic songs would cause the same joyous effect as Stay Young, Go Dancing. However, the latest acoustic track presents a dark, dragging vibe that will cause fans to skip to the next song Hold No Guns, which presents a much more intimate, gentle and notable experience.
The most memorable and exciting track on the record is The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive. The music is intentionally muffled for the first thirty seconds of the song to create the mysterious presence of these ghosts. When the introductory muted effect transitions to the verse, the song blasts off and Beverly Drive awakens with distorted guitar riffs and a rocking, progressive drumbeat. After this track, Death Cab fanatics should skip to Everything’s A Ceiling, which delivers the familiar studio embellishments and songwriting structure that they are likely to admire. Good Help (Is So Hard To Find) is another gem that provides the poppy optimism heard on classics such as Soul Meets Body and The Sound Of Settling.
It’s important for bands to not make the same record twice, but it’s even more important for them to master the sound that originally attracted so many followers. Throughout the album Gibbard fails to show his full vocal range and we’re robbed of the soulful falsetto he’s projected on older songs like Passenger Seat and Stable Song. Without tracks one, three, seven and eight, Kintsugi would be a complete flop. Hopefully, the band agreed on this album title because they know it’s a reshaping studio effort and are working out kinks within this growth period. Let’s take a leap of faith that the next album’s guitarist will bring back the Death Cab hooks that made Transatlanticism and Plans memorable from start to finish.
Scott J. Herman