The famed Alternative and Indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie released its much anticipated new album, Kintsugi on March 31, 2015. After four years, Kintsugi departs from the melodramatically content album that was heavily showcased in Codes and Keys, back in late May of 2011. This new album is gloomier, but sincere as the lead vocalist Ben Gibbard covers issues with his late bandmate and lead guitarist Chris Walla, who left after recording Kintsugi and Gibbard’s problems he was facing in his marriage to actress and singer-songwriter Zoey Deschanel, who he is now divorced from.
Kintsugi currently has four singles which are the first four songs on the album. The word “Kintsugi” is Japanese for the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dust or powdered gold, silver, and platinum. In this case, the band uses the title of this album to repair the heartache they must have suffered from Walla’s departure and Deschanel walking out of Gibbard’s life. Along with Gibbard, the current trio consists of bass guitarist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr. Let’s dive into this emotional scrape book of eleven tracks.
The first track titled, “No Room In Frame,” is the second single to come from Kintsugi and begins the album in a soft, but sunny feel. The beat has a steady pace until the guitar kicks in at the middle. The lyrics, however, escalate to deep emotional guilt, anger, and resentment. “Was I in your way / when the cameras turn to face you / no room in frame / for two.” The verses prior transition Gibbard from when he was an Average Joe to the famed musician he is today. Then looking back, he resents the idea that his wife at the time was too famous, and that her career had overshadowed their relationship. “No Room In Frame” is a symbolic and literal way of describing their relationship. With red carpet photographs being taken, Gibbard was always left out. At 2.18 minutes in, Walla’s background guitar barrels through the drumbeats. The second half plays out like a relationship spiraling out of control. “How can I stay / when the sun / when the rain flows / all through my veins / it’s true/ and I guess it’s not a failure we can help / we will both go on and get lonely with someone else / someone else.” The same verse and chorus sings out solemnly as it’s hinted that the end of his marriage was inevitable and bound for failure.
“Black Sun,” was the first single to come from Death Cab for Cutie in four years. This song delivers a more catchy rock beat that rolls in a consistent motion, like a hamster wheel. The lyrics are much darker on this track, such as vocals like, “there is whiskey in the water / there is depth upon the vine / there is fear in the eyes of your father.” Gibbard seems to have a lot of questions about how things unfold in situations and the reasons why incidences happen. The Black Sun could symbolize an omen of negative energy since it is stated after Gibbard sings in the chorus, “how could something so far be so cruel / when this black sun revolved around you.” Black Sun is actually a German occult symbol. “There is a dumpster in the driveway / of all the plans that came undone,” could be the moment when Gibbard and Deschanel split. “Black Sun,” is repetitive and slightly boring.
The third track, “Ghost of Beverly Drive,” feels nostalgic in the band’s roots. The instruments in this song are more scattered and creative. The pace of this track is more uplifting and sad at the same time. The chorus suggests flashbacks of either dramatic moments he had with his ex-wife or former band member, Walla. “I don’t know why / I don’t know why / I return to the scenes of these crimes / where the hedgerows slowly wind / through the ghosts of Beverly Drive / I don’t know why / I don’t know why / I don’t know what I expect to find / all the news is secondhand / and everything goes on as it’s planned.” Beverly Drive could either be the place where Gibbard owned a home with his former wife, where Walla lived or where the band used to record. Regardless, it seems like things did not end well. “Ghost of Beverly Drive,” is seated in the healthy sound of Death Cab for Cutie.
The next song is the best track on the album. “Little Wanderer,” has the most beautiful lyrics with a pleasing guitar riff that is as heartfelt as a lullaby. The instruments sing over the Earth as Gibbard’s echoes like a hovering blimp as the sun rises. This song reminds us of the “good times”. Gibbard is missing his “little wanderer” who is always in transit. When will she return to him? Photos from Paris and Tokyo are examples that highlight Gibbard and Deschanel’s long-distance relationship. “Little Wanderer” shows us how much Gibbard loves Deschanel.
The fifth track titled, “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” is a continuation of “Little Wanderer” in which his emotions are going from love to sadness. Lyrics on this track hint to an affair as Gibbard admits, “You’ve haunted me all my life / you are the mistress I can’t make a wife.” The mellow feeling this song portrays is similar to the vibes from “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” on the Plans album.
“Hold No Guns,” is entirely acoustic. This departs from the studio tracks and feels like it was recorded inside a dark attic, with a thin layer of sunlight shining through a ceiling sky window. This is something you’d hear a suicidal artist performing at the local coffeehouse; poetic, sad, and clichéd.
The next track starts with an 80’s inspired synthesized intro until the guitar jumps in and soon becomes a Death Cab for Cutie mix. “Everything’s A Ceiling” is performed in a lot of hymns and later has folk-like sounds. However, the lyrics are still very somber with verses such as, “So far down in this hole / there’s little daylight / I feel the shards of the midday sun / and it’s black as midnight / only stars I see in the sky / they don’t move me / cause they’ve all been dead for millions of years / they’re just light diffusing.” Gibbard is trying to find answers in the constellations. He must have felt pretty helpless. The musical instruments are more peaceful as the lyrics get darker. “And I’ve got nowhere to go / except further below / so I keep digging / and it gets darker every day / but I see no other way / then just committing.”
“Good Help (Is So Hard To Find),” could be the next single. This song experiments more with its instruments as they pedal into different phases. The lyrics suggest Gibbard’s frustration with the lead guitarist. The vocals could be actual conversations that Gibbard and the other band members had with Walla. Death Cab for Cutie may have attempted to reason with Walla so that he wouldn’t lose his place in the band. “Only a fool would give this a way,” Gibbard preaches like an older sibling.
Such as an older sibling trying to get attention would best describe, “El Dorado.” Gibbard’s voice is blurry like a dreamscape as he repeats the chorus, “I’ve tried to / be high for you / Oh I’m trying to / be high for you.” El Dorado is the city of gold which is symbolic in this song of someone going to an endless party. The vocals narrate a conflict of the singer wanting to spend time with someone who would rather be in El Dorado; an angelic atmosphere he was never invited. This song highlights the sudden misunderstanding between friends.
A stereotypical innocent female character in literature is an ingénue. “Ingénue,” tells a story about a girl (could be Deschanel) who was innocent at 23-years-old, but wanted to be taken more seriously as her relationship got deeper. Gibbard states that his actions threatened her innocence, but no matter, she always remained the same ingénue. Regardless of who she winds up with, Deschanel in Gibbard’s eyes will always be the beautiful innocent butterfly he originally met. These poetic lyrics are backed by a wall of vocals from the other band members.
The final song to end this journey of suffering, “Binary Sea,” is told from a solemn Gibbard with loud piano chord progressions and a soft acoustic guitar. This track is about Atlas, the Titan who held the Earth on his shoulders. Gibbard talks about Atlas like himself in the third person. He is seeing what he must look like from an outside perspective and is finally accepting the good moments of his marriage, since that should only matter. “Binary Sea,” is the perfect lyrical ending that best describes someone “moving on”. Relationships may not be eternal like in fairy-tales, but the happy memories last forever, as vast as a binary sea.
Kintsugi is one of the best lyrical albums to date. Death Cab for Cutie has become masters in songwriting. This album is looking through a scope of a post-break up and finding a solution in the simplest way. Gibbard’s voice is personal and relatable. The musical variety is nowhere near the eccentric phenomenon of Transatlanticism or Plans, but the deep poetic lyrics are on levels far beyond any of their former albums. Kintsugi is meant to be listened and analyzed alone. It is a grower that takes time to appreciate. Once the beauty in Kintsugi is realized, there are boundless interpretations.