Album Review: Death Cab for Cutie, 'Kintsugi'

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Death Cab for Cutie, 'Kintsugi'
Death Cab for Cutie's 'Kintsugi' comes out March 31; CD and MP3s available on Atlantic Records, vinyl on Barsuk Records. (© 2015 Atlantic Records.)

The newest album from Death Cab for Cutie is called Kintsugi, which is a Japanese concept of repairing things, rather than discarding. It's a concept that can very easily be applied to a band that not only suffered from the departure of one of its founding members, but also withstood the highly public dissolution of its most prominent member's marriage. These themes will be dissected to death in every other review you read of Kintsugi, so I'll largely provide a brief recap of all the other ways the record does and doesn't work.

In a way, Kintsugi is a continuation of the recent trend of alternative artists exploring the sonic depths of the 1980s. Last year featured such efforts from the War on Drugs, Ryan Adams, and Jenny Lewis; each case saw seemingly forgotten elements of '80s rock brought back to the forefront in intriguing new ways. I think back to the songs I subliminally absorbed from hearing my parents' radio, such as Tears for Fears or INXS, and I hear echoes of that in the up-tempo songs on Kintsugi, particularly the opener "No Room in Frame" and the driving "The Ghosts of Beverly Road." Guitarist Chris Walla (who departed the band following the completion of the record) pulls off a pretty decent Johnny Marr impersonation on "El Dorado," and "Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)" is the goofy-yet-charming sound of Death Cab for Cutie attempting a four-on-the-floor dance anthem.

The quieter, brooding songs are less successful. I read one review that highlighted the slower songs as a welcome respite, but to my ears, they come off as plodding and a disruption from the album's momentum. "You've Haunted Me All My Life" is strikingly on-the-nose (if you can imagine Ben Gibbard singing the title phrase in your head, you've pretty much just imagined the entire song) and "Binary Sea" is seemingly pulled directly from the Album Closer chapter of the Book of Archetypes.

The pivotal song on Kintsugi is "Little Wanderer." It's similar to Jenny Lewis's "Late Bloomer": it's so highly detailed, that it's almost impossible not to read it as autobiographical, and yet the sense of artistic embellishment hangs over it as well. For that reason, "Late Bloomer" was a formidable hurdle, and similarly so is "Little Wanderer." The obvious interpretation is that the title character, so vividly rendered by Gibbard's words, is his former partner, Zooey Deschanel. If it is indeed her, it's a startlingly personal window into their relationship, and even if that isn't the explicit theme, one senses there's at least some degree of catharsis Gibbard is undergoing by letting these thoughts into the world.

Death Cab for Cutie's long legacy largely hinges on how much of a personal history a listener has invested with the band's music. Kintsugi may or may not fit with your concept of what the band should or should not be, but its merits make it an enjoyable record for anyone seeking a record that's enjoyable.

Audience ratings for this album


The Current's listeners who submitted ratings for this album gave it no lower than 4 stars out of 5, which was the most popular rating for this album, chosen by 61.5 percent of those who rated it.Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, April 3.

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