Death Cab for Cutie
With its eighth studio album, Death Cab for Cutie’s “Kintsugi” is here to remind listeners that veteran status and relevance aren’t always mutually exclusive.
I’ve been listening to Death Cab since I was 12 years old.
Allow me to rephrase: I’ve loved Death Cab since I was 12 years old.
Its fifth studio album, “Plans,” was my first hit of indie-rock, pumped through the headphones of my Memorex MP3 player on the back of the late bus.
Not that it took much to make an adolescent me feel cooler than I was, but Death Cab’s effortless honesty and spot-on instrumentals never failed to make middle school suck a little less and my musical palette just that much more diverse.
The band followed the release of 2005’s “Plans” with two more albums throughout the course of six years. They were met by fans and critics alike with overwhelmingly positive reviews. “Narrow Stairs” reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and 2011’s “Codes and Keys” received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.
Though the lion’s share of Death Cab’s music has had success, the band’s latest work dips into new territory.
“Kintsugi” is rife with loss. The title itself speaks to the evolution of the band’s professional and personal lives. Kintsugi is a form a Japanese art, one that takes cracks in pieces of pottery and fills them with an unmistakable gold adhesive.
This album is the last with founding member Chris Walla and the first since lead singer Ben Gibbard’s celebrity divorce from “New Girl” star, Zooey Deschanel.
In many ways, the foundation of the band, much like the pottery for which its album is named, is cracked. They’ve proved, however, that there is gold to be found in this project.
At its root, “Kintsugi” is a beautiful and brutally honest record. It begins with “No Room in Frame,” a song that seems to speak to Gibbard’s failed marriage. The simple and heartfelt chorus sings, “Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you / No room in frame for two.”
This track undoubtedly sets the tone for the rest the album: understanding loss and rebuilding despite it. “Black Sun” speaks similarly: “How could something so fair be so cruel / When this black sun revolved around you?”
As with many records of veteran bands, “Kintsugi” occasionally gives way to cliché-ish lyrical tropes and production that almost tries too hard to be innovative. It is clear the band is making concerted efforts to stay fresh, but the attempts occasionally fall flat.
All in all, “Kintsugi” proves the best things about Death Cab’s sound have never changed. It proves the raw emotion and the lyrical vulnerability that have defined its success have managed to transcend not only albums but nearly two decades of Death Cab for Cutie’s reign as a genre constant.
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