Teaching Us the Art of ‘Kintsugi’

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Courtney Barnett (Courtesy of Mom + Pop Music)

Death Cab For Cutie’s musical history is vast, with their first album debuting in 1998. Since then a lot of things have changed with the band. Recently, guitarist Chris Walla has left the group, but continued to help with this production. Lead singer, Ben Gibbard’s divorce in 2012 with actress Zooey Deschanel has also been the center of attention in the past few years. With all of this, the title of this new collection of songs is only fitting.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing pottery with the use of lacquer mixed with gold powder, leaving the pottery more beautiful than ever before. This theme of repaired beauty and evolution is exactly what Death Cab for Cutie needs and this new album delivers on it.

“No Room in Frame” starts off the playlist. The first verse has a simple bass and drumbeat, but quickly blooms into a beautiful mixture of melodies. As a result, a powerful melancholy is created, with lyrics that are painfully true. Like a lot of past relationships Gibbard sings, “I guess it’s not a failure we could help”.

Transitioning to “Black Sun,” Gibbard’s voice is more aggressive here, along with a guitar riff that lands a powerful spot in this song. Both aspects help to realize the sense of struggle being described within the song’s words: a journey of self forgiveness and discovery.

“The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” on the other hand transitions to a more upbeat mood. It retains the same general theme as the previous two songs but comes off as a bit more wondrous due to its lighter notes. Still, it’s anything but lighthearted.

“Little Wanderer” is a breath of fresh air in a sea of overused tropes. Rather than a woman waiting for her prince, a man waits for his, well, wanderer. “You’ve Haunted me All My Life,” on the other hand, is a little more bare. There isn’t as much power to the instruments as there is to Gibbard’s voice, but forms an alluring and eerie melody nonetheless.

“Hold No Guns” has nothing playing in the background except an acoustic guitar. This minimalistic approach is great and allows the lyrics to be much more powerful. Imagine having someone you love dearly avoid you for no reason. That’s the turmoil that plays out in this song.

Next, we have some heavier synth and a faster tempo in “Everything’s a Ceiling.” Again, it deals with the life and aftermath of a broken relationship. Not particularly excellent, but still enjoyable.

“Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)” deviates from the previous themes thus far. A lot more gung-ho in its style, this track retains Death Cab for Cutie’s beliefs in remaining down to earth instead of reaching for stardom. The tempo is as fast-paced as “Everything’s a Ceiling” and sounds just as upbeat as “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” which fits with the band’s spirit for musical integrity. As someone who likes to think he has a strong rebellious side, this one’s probably my favorite.

With “El Dorado,” the vocals are echoing, along with  a welcome addition of some soothing piano keys. Still, it just doesn’t have the same resonance that the other tracks have. This one feels as if it’s a bit more simplistic in style than it should be.

“Ingenue” is fun to listen to simply because of its story. The word Ingenue itself describes the character archetype of the innocent and pure maiden. The song gives out a feeling of airiness, as the lyrics lay out some vivid imagery of the pure girl.

The album closes with “Binary Sea,” which features piano notes that are beyond endearing, and ultimately finalizes the album’s theme of recovery with an elegant love song. This one is definitely something I’d want to have played at my wedding.

“Kintsugi” is a wonderful album and very easy to listen to. Much like the stories behind these tracks, Death Cab For Cutie is ever changing, but never broken.


RECOMMENDED: “Kintsugi” takes you on an adventure of romantic pain and recovery. While some tracks aren’t as strong, they’re all alluring in their own right.