It’s been four years since Death Cab for Cutie released the divisive Codes and Keys, which marked a departure from the alternative rock group’s typical sound. Now the boys from Washington are back with their eighth studio album, Kintsugi.
Sound aside, the core of each Death Cab song has always been lead singer Ben Gibbard’s earnest vocals and clever songwriting. Whereas the lyrics were less personal on Codes and Keys, on Kintsugi Gibbard lets listeners in again. Obvious lines of thinking will attribute this to his divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel.
The album’s opener, “No Room in Frame” alludes to Gibbard’s difficulties being with a star of Deschanel’s calibre. “Was I in your way, when the cameras turned to face you?” Gibbard asks in the chorus over a steady drum and synth beat. Gibbard’s take on moving on isn’t exactly optimistic either, as the song concludes: “And I guess it’s not a failure we could help, and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”
This mournful, melancholy vibe is apparent on tracks such as the sparse “Hold No Guns,” on which Gibbard sings “My love why do you run?/My hands hold no gun” over a simple, almost inaudible guitar strum.
That’s not to say that this is an album full of sad, slow ballads. The melodic, entrancing record has its more upbeat moments, such as “Everything’s a Ceiling” and “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find).”
One of the album’s standout moments is “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.” The catchy track sees Gibbard taking a more metaphorical approach to loss this time: “If you let me be your skyline, I’ll let you be the wave/that reduces me to rubble but looks safe from far away”, he sings over a jangly, clap-along beat.
Gibbard’s songwriting has evolved as he has aged with the band, no longer singing about the troubles of adolescence. Now his music reflects an older, more mature musician looking at the world through experienced eyes.
On “Ingénue,” Gibbard returns to the theme of being young, this time from a different perspective. He sings to what might be a younger version of himself, telling him to “take all you can from the mouth of man/and escape from this town before your sand runs out” over a loop of “la la la” vocals.
This is the last Death Cab album with guitarist and producer Chris Walla, who announced he was leaving the band after Kintsugi’s recording.
The album’s title alludes to a Japanese art technique that involves putting broken pottery back together with precious metals. This is especially appropriate; Death Cab for Cutie has put together some beautiful music from the hard times, both personal and professional.