Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio album, not only showcases a more guitar-driven sound in comparison to the group’s previous albums, but is also packed with in-your-face emotion and layers of synth. The album seems both familiar and new, with typical melodic, melancholy sounds and personalized-yet-relatable lyrics.
The album gets its name from the Japanese word “kintsugi,” which is the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. Metaphorically, it symbolizes treating breakage — whether in life or in relationships — as part of the history of an object, rather than disguising it.
The name is fitting, since lead vocalist Benjamin Gibbard finalized his divorce with TV and music star Zooey Deschanel in late 2012, and founding member and lead guitarist Chris Walla announced his departure from the band during early production (although he stuck around to finish the album).
The 11-track album maintains a moderately slow tempo, and most of the lyrics are emotional and uphold Gibbard’s characteristic unique, personal intimacy. While each of the songs individually are well-written and undoubtedly up-to-par, together they seem repetitive — sad song after sad song about lost love and distaste for Los Angeles. Despite the redundant song material, the album begins and ends strong.
The first track, “No Room in Frame,” is perhaps the album’s most obvious post-divorce song. In its chorus, Gibbard sings, “Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you? No room in frame for two.” Later in the song he continues, “And I guess it’s not a failure we could help, and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”
The second track, “Black Sun,” also seems to be derived from Gibbard’s recent divorce, with lines like, “How could something so fair be so cruel, when this black sun revolved around you,” and “There’s a dumpster in the driveway of all the plans that came undone.”
The last two tracks on the album, “Ingenue” and “Binary Sea,” wrap up Kintsugi well, again sounding both familiar and new.
“Ingenue,” which means “an unsophisticated or innocent young woman,” incorporates a lot of Death Cab for Cutie’s electronic influences, and resembles the sound of Gibbard’s side-project The Postal Service. The lyrics shed light on the darker sides of growing up: “When age’s glacial pace cuts valleys into your face, the currency of being twenty-three — it will remain the same. Just by another name.”
On the other hand, “Binary Sea” features a more refreshing, piano-led sound that seems to perfectly complement Gibbard’s voice. Although it doesn’t drift too far away from the rest of the album’s somber sound, it does have more optimistic lyrics. The track ends with the line, “So lean in close or lend an ear. There’s something brilliant bound to happen here,” bringing closure to the album.
Overall, Kintsugi shows maturity in comparison to Death Cab For Cutie’s earlier releases. Despite redundancy in content and emotion, it depicts Gibbard’s feelings honestly in a way that listeners can relate to and find meaning within. The album begins and ends on strong notes, and have strikingly memorable lyrics scattered throughout – definitely worth a listen.