Three years ago time was famously called on Ben Gibbard’s marriage with superstar Zooey Deschanel, and his heartbreak is played out in Death Cab For Cutie’s eighth record, Kintsugi. It’s an emotional release, but much of Death Cab For Cutie’s material always has been. The delivery comes from a wiser head though, and the record loses huge parts of the brilliance found in Plans and Transatlanticism, as musically Gibbard’s backdrop is much more restricted than previous releases.
Gibbard has a penchant for honest, introspective songs, and Death Cab’s greatest work has always felt exclusively written for every ounce of love, heartbreak or remorse you’ve ever experienced. The beauty is the personal “This is on my behalf!” feeling, behind gems such as ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ and ‘We Looked Like Giants’. Gibbard’s lyrics fuel enigmatic tweets by love-struck teens (or MSN Messenger screennames, when Plans was released in 2005), and this is their greatest weapon. But with Kintsugi’s release, some 10 years after Plans, the same nostalgia is housed on older shoulders and has lost some of its gravitas. Gibbard’s voice sounds as plaintive as ever, but the impact is lacking.
This being said, the personal influence of the Deschanel breakup is clear in the opening track, ‘No Room in Frame’, where Gibbard laments: “Was I in your way/When the cameras turned to face you?/No room in frame for two.”
‘Black Sun’ has a hypnotic quality, and continues a strong opening to the record, while the upbeat rhythm of ‘The Ghosts of Beverly Drive’ is the finest musical turnout, with catchy hooks and a head-turning chorus. ‘Little Wanderer’ is a sweet love song, but one which turns exhilarating ideas of traveling on their head, coming from the point of view of the left behind. From the perspective of those left counting the difference in time zones and receiving photographs of adventures, Gibbard sings, “but someone’s gotta be the lighthouse/And that someone’s gotta be me.”
It is worth noting at this point that, in September 2014 it was announced that guitarist, founding member and long-time producer Chris Walla was to leave the band. Much of his craft had been deployed in the record already, but his absence in producing the finished product is stark. There’s a change in the record’s essence, with much more focus attributed to Gibbard’s vocals.
Walla’s departure makes the album title Kintsugi incredibly apt. Named after a Japanese art formed where broken pottery is fused together with gold lining, cracks are celebrated and repairs are exposed to add to the beauty of the artefact, rather than detract from it. This is a pretty glaring metaphor as Gibbard seeks to rebuild his personal life and Death Cab For Cutie throughout the record.
Overall, Kintsugi is a solid effort, though one which is perhaps a little self-absorbed from Gibbard. Musically it is a safer bet than previous releases meaning that parts read like a solo record, and it doesn’t hit the highs of Plans, Transatlanticism or Narrow Stairs, but the record has its moments and there are parts which will no doubt satisfy long-term fans of the band.