Death Cab for Cutie released its eighth studio album, “Kintsugi,” on Atlantic Records on March 31 and is the first release, which follows the departure of founding member and long-time producer, Chris Walla, from the band.
This shift in production and arrangement, accompanied by frontman Ben Gibbard’s divorce from Zooey Deschanel, makes the album title extremely appropriate. Kintsugi is a Japanese art of fixing broken pottery that views the restoration process as an ode to its history, rather than an attempt to create or disguise something new.
Gibbard’s subdued lyrics tackle subject matter ranging from the trials of long distances to the pained memories of hometowns on an album, which seems to be the farthest departure from the band’s early, lo-fi roots to date. It seems as though some of Gibbard’s electronic side project, the Postal Service, spilled over into “Kintsugi.”
“Kintsugi” leans toward the poppier side of any of Death Cab’s releases, which could be attributed to new production authority, or what seems to be the ever-shifting tendency of music to explore a lighter note. Regardless, the departure from the band’s traditionally minimalistic approach does create some catchy tunes.
The album’s third single, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” is an up-tempo, staccato guitar thumping gem that appears early on the track list.
“You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” serves as a few of the most stripped down minutes on the album. It’s held up entirely by Gibbard’s serene lull and painstakingly forthright concessions.
Other noteworthy songs include the pessimistic “Everything’s A Ceiling” and the admonishing “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find).”
Along with the good comes a few lackluster minutes on “Kintsugi.” Tracks like the opening “No Room in Frame” and “Little Wanderer” do not serve as a credit to Gibbard’s acclaimed lyricism. The band’s overly simplified choruses and subject matter leave little to the imagination, and they seem to rely on smooth melodies as a crutch.
The haunting “El Dorado” confronts issues of disillusionment backed by sped up snare and a superficial bridge. The song’s most redeeming quality is that it’s sandwiched between a cluster of more believable numbers, almost masking its faults.
“Kintsugi” isn’t going to make indie history like 2000s “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.” It doesn’t hold the emotional weight of 2005’s highly successful “Plans.” Still, the album does ensure the most head bopping and finger tapping of any Death Cab release to date.
That’s sort of the beauty in a band like Death Cab–each of its albums is going to mean a whole bunch to someone, no matter its place in line amongst its best hits, based on its longevity and extremely loyal fan base.
“Kintsugi” is nothing to write home about, but it is deserving of a listen through, if only to be reminded that Gibbard’s ability to address any sort of melancholy sentiment in an extremely relatable and honest way is still in tact.
Death Cab has just begun touring to promote “Kintsugi” and has two scheduled Chicago dates at the Chicago Theatre on April 30 and May 1.