Genre: Indie Rock
Producer: Rich Costey
Released: March 31, 2015
It’s been four years since the last Death Cab For Cutie album, and it’s the first one since the band’s singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard divorced from Zooey Deschanel. That, the corrupted photo file as cover art, and the fact that the album is named after the Japanese art involving fixing broken pottery, it’s pretty clear that Kintsugi is a break-up album. The opening number “No Room In Frame” states that there’s “no room in frame for two”, and uses the quiet parts along with heavy echo to further underline the loneliness. The rest of the album follows roughly along the same musical routes; the lush keyboards form a canvas for the reverbed guitars to paint on. On their previous album the band experimented with a less guitar-centric and more synth-heavy sound, and now they embrace that experiment like an awkward teenager wishing to gain superpowers. Unlike for the guy who got bit by a radioactive spider and died, this particular experiment worked out rather well.
Lyrically the subject matter is a bit predictable, even if interestingly presented: “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” compares the parting lovers to ghosts of those who died in a terrible car crash, and how they keep living through those tragic moments over and over again. “Little Wanderer” is about ordeals of a long distance relationship, how the camera feed glitches, how the network overloads, and how you’re too lazy to do the math with the time zones. All of the songs more or less deal with the break-up, barely avoiding the most tired clichés, but still treading on ice so thin that I sincerely hope someone brought an ice pick.
Midway through the record there’s a small slump with “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life”, which uses a bit too much time for the slow build-up to be satisfying, and the acoustic, stripped down “Hold No Gun”, which doesn’t really fit the album’s otherwise rich soundscape. However, the album gets right back on the horse with the steadily galloping “Everything’s A Ceiling” and almost danceable “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)”. Appropriately “El Dorado” shines over the rest of the album from the first listen, and the finale “Binary Sea” starts out as a bare piano ballad, but cleverly builds synth layers on top the piano, reflecting the lyrical content about our conditioning towards technology.
In kintsugi (the pottery-fixing thing, not the album) the breaking is treated as a part of the story of the item; it’s fixed in a way that doesn’t attempt to hide the scars, but embrace them as a part of its character. So at least Gibbard’s having a good attitude about it, and it shows: as far as break-up albums go, this one’s pretty sufferable.