Kintsugi is the Japanese art of filling in the cracks in broken pottery with gold. An analogy of trying to find silver linings in life for when shit hits the fan. For the lead singer and songwriter of the Death Cab For Cutie Ben Gibbard, this could extend to the fact that in 2012 he got divorced from Hollywood’s sweetheart Zooey Deschanel and last year Death Cab’s lead guitarist and a brilliant creative force Chris Walla left the band. Walla’s guitar work is still all over this album but it’s sad to see someone so great leave the band. It’s like the equivalent to Graham Coxon leaving Blur, except after hearing this record you can be sure that Death Cab For Cutie aren’t going to release something along the lines of ‘Think Tank’ any time soon.
The analogy extends because despite all of this happening to the man recently, there’s a distinct shift in the way he’s writing his songs. Gibbard isn’t writing from a very personal perspective on this album, nor is he playing characters convincingly like we’re used to seeing him do on previous records. He’s simply singing about nothing too personal, in a way that’s not too convincingly passionate either. In fact, Gibbard’s song-writing on this album is extremely bland. To somebody who would never have listened to Death Cab For Cutie before, ‘Kintsugi’ will sound like Mark Owen from Take That doing an experimental solo album. ‘Kintsugi’ is the sound of a band known for playing it safe – but who usually come up with some great songs along the way – trying to grow up. ‘Hold No Guns’ is a testament to this, an acoustic ballad that sounds like one of the times where Ben Gibbard sounds like he could be Gary Barlow (that’s even worse than Mark Owen).
It’s because of this that the album is so hard to take seriously. Previous albums like ‘Transatlanticism’ not only had strong song-writing that could rip your heart out of your chest but it was delivered in such a way that felt so genuine. ‘Kintsugi’ is filled with lyrics that just don’t pack any real emotional weight behind them. ‘Kintgusi’ doesn’t go in-depth at all. When you consider that ‘Translatlanticism’ is a word Gibbard made up to describe a long distance relationship and then you take lyrics on this album in relation to one that are as simple as ‘You’re my wanderer, little wanderer/ Off across the sea/ You’re my wanderer, little wanderer/ Won’t you wander back to me?’ it’s hard to not feel slightly down at the fact that he doesn’t seem to be trying.
Of course musically, most of the time Death Cab are genuinely sound and is another moment where the analogy of silver linings for their album extends. Chris Walla’s guitar work with the group has always been fantastic and it’s no different here and he is their ray of optimism. The opening track ‘No Room In The Frame’ has an upbeat vocal melody from Gibbard that’s only brought to life through the sweet guitar melodies that feel like they could be played while relaxing on a beach. the song that follows it ‘Black Sun’ shows off the brilliant guitar tones coming from him as well, but once again feels so let down through the bland song-writing. The production on this album is the first to not be handled by the band themselves, and was instead produced by Rich Costey. The main difference sonically from this is that they seem to be taking a lot more influence from Brian Eno. They dabble in electronic music with synthesisers that mostly act as wallpaper music – it just exists and doesn’t enhance the music in any way. This isn’t the fault of Costley though – his production is squeaky clean and actually does them justice – it’s the ideas behind the production. The exception for this is the track ‘Inegenue’ which has the most genuine attempt from them with the vocals being subdued over the top of a stunning guitar line and a brilliant drum section.
God knows what the future holds for Death Cab For Cutie now Walla has left the band. There’s still hope there; they seem to have a slight willingness to change and this record shows it. It’s unfortunate that the change is the just the dressing, and the actual meal we’re offered is way too bland.This could be the most beige and dull Death Cab For Cutie album yet, and not really to the fault of any lineup changes, but to the fault of song-writing itself.
Best Songs: Ingenue