Death Cab For Cutie

Kintsugi

Written by: TL on 03/04/2015 17:15:30

Making it to album number eight should be a milestone for any band, and for US indie rock mainstays Death Cab For Cutie, "Kintsugi" is an end of an era. For the first time in their eighteen year existence, the band has enlisted the help of an outside producer in Rich Costey, and at the same time the album is the swan song of guitarist Chris Walla, one of three founding members left in the band until now, and the man who produced every one of their previous albums. That being said, fans need not brace themselves for shocking changes, as "Kintsugi" immediately makes the listener feel in safe hands, in the capable way of an album, which reminds a reviewer once more why he or she had to assign some lower grades to a lot of records that came before.

The first half of "Kintsugi" in particular, is Death Cab as fans know and love them, only aged and weathered a bit, and with the keys taking a gushing new-wave tone as they sneak into the soundscape subtly, finding the contemplative guitar melodies and lifting them at well-timed moments. Frontman Benjamin Gibbard sings calmly in his matter-of-factly way, in lyrical hooks that only thinly veil a melancholia found in a man who holds on to his views on the world with a certain well-reasoned dignity, yet can't quite seem to make things stay in place the way he wants them to, as portrayed in the lyrics to "You've Haunted Me All My Life": "You've haunted me all my life. You are the mistress I can't make a wife, and you've haunted me all my life".

There's a certain contrast though, in a song like the opener "No Room In Frame", which gently rouses the listener, like sun rays from the dawn striking you as you wander home dizzy from a long summer night out. The sound wants to bubble and bloom, yet Gibbard seems retrospective, rationalising a break-up with lines like "Was I in your way? When the cameras turned to face you? No room in frame. For two", and it's easy to suspect that the lyrics originate from Gibbard's 2011 divorce from actress and She & Him singer Zooey Deschanel - A notion also echoed by another highlight like "Little Wanderer". On one hand this track exorcises the frustration in being committed to someone who travels the world: "You sent a photo out your window of Paris, of what you wish that I could see. But someone’s gotta be the lighthouse, and that someone’s gotta be me" - but on the other it also builds to a nostalgic and romantic bridge: "When our eyes meet past security, we embrace in the baggage claim - When we kiss in the baggage claim".

Along with the three tracks mentioned so far, "Black Sun" and "The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive" sit as the primary highlights on the first half of the album. Particularly the former makes a deceptively lasting impression via its opening line about "Whiskey in the water" and its chorus which circles back to the double-sided musing "How could something so fair be so cruel?", while the latter brings a quick-footed tempo and a laid-back yet poppy catchiness to bear.

And on that first half of the album, Death Cab sound as engaging and as elegant as ever, and it is no knock on the songs that their structures are streamlined and compatible with radio play, simply because of the maturity and groundedness their thoughtful lyrics are delivered with. As the record moves past the simple acoustic ballad "Hold No Guns" and the vague depression lyrics of "Everything's A Ceiling" though, things regrettably start to drop off somewhat. "Good Help (Is Hard To Find)" makes an impression via its restrained sneer and accusing lyrics, but gets to sounding a bit petty in a way that looks poor on the otherwise relatively relatable Gibbard. And while the remaining three tracks on the album still make for pleasant listening at face value, it's only the closer "Binary Sea" that echoes some of the gravity that the opening handful impressed upon the listener so readily.

That being said, a solid handful of Death Cab songs delivered up front that all sound likely to catch on soon and hold up to the test of time later, still helps to lift an album where even the lesser moments portray a level of competence and euphony that is beyond the reach of many less experienced bands. And in terms of sheer single power, "Kintsugi" figures to deliver more separate tracks for future Death Cab greatest hits setlists than probably any record of theirs since 2005's high water mark "Plans". It is a rewarding pick-up for the group's many fans then, and not the worst place to get started if you're new and want to get an idea of where the considerable respect for the group's name comes from.

8

Download: Black Sun, The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive, Little Wanderer, No Room In Frame
For The Fans Of: The National, Copeland, Elbow
Listen: facebook.com/deathcabforcutie

Release date 31.03.2015
Atlantic

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