Characterized as a break-up album, Death Cab for Cutie’s latest, Kintsugi, follows in the footsteps of 2011’s Codes and Keys, a mostly forgettable record from a band that specializes in memorabilia. Death Cab’s signature songs are like little memory time capsules that explode vividly in your ears as you listen to them. Front man Ben Gibbard writes songs like personal diary entries, cataloging the beautiful details of the scenery, the conversation, the emotions, all of it. He taps into this astute observational ability that can either feel overwrought or absolutely perfect. Kintsugi is somewhere in the middle, with a handful of songs that will sink into the background and never really take shape. But the standouts are true “wow” moments, and will fill that oh-so-particular Death Cab void.
As a whole, Kintsugi harkens back to 2008’s spectacular Narrow Stairs. The instrumentals, especially the guitars, are lush and epic. The songs on this record feel larger than life, and as per usual, the opening track hits hard. Death Cab seems to routinely open their albums with an immediate scene-stealer of a song – one that will leave an impression and suck you right in. For Kintsugi, that is “No Room in Frame”. “I don’t know where to begin/There’s too many things I can’t remember/They disappeared like a trend”, sings Gibbard in his crystal clear voice. “No room in frame for two”, he continues, and suddenly we’re hyper aware of that high profile break-up from a certain indie sweetheart a few years back. Gibbard isn’t shy with his references, and ultimately, we’re thankful for his candor and humility. His heart is wholly on his sleeve, and though his confessions can, at times, feel overly smothering, they are mostly poignant and gorgeous. This tune is a powerful one, and it wins you over regardless of where they left off with you on their last album.
Death Cab has always been melancholy and dark, but Kintsugi is full of a new kind of sadness. And though there are a couple of attempts at a synthy, dance sound (“Everything’s a Ceiling”) and up-tempo rock and roll (“The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”), the most winning moments are the deeply heartbreaking ones. Songs like “Little Wanderer” and “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” are gut wrenching and tear jerking, but smooth and polished.
“Little Wanderer” finds Gibbard lamenting a long-distance relationship that couldn’t stand the many tests it faced, and “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” is that wrong-place wrong-time ode to unrequited love. Both are moving depictions of two people on different planes in life, and both are insanely catchy. You might not want to dance and sway around your living room to the sounds of Gibbard describing his break-up, but you will and it will be so cathartic.
Gibbard is at his highest point artistically when he’s adrift. Kintsugi finds him with no home, nowhere to go, and no one to love him, but being lost brings out the best in him. Death Cab can often be like that intense, sometimes needy ex-boyfriend who says the right thing often enough that you continue to let him come back into your life. Said ex is usually sad, but really smart, and has a knack for sweeping you off your feet in such a grand way that those swoon-worthy moments are like unforgettable Polaroids you’ll keep in a box under your bed forever. He’s moody and pretty, cantankerous and controlling. But he’s sensitive and special, so you’ll keep him in your heart and continue to always love him, even when it hurts.