Death Cab For Cutie have had a surprisingly easy and successful shift from beloved indie band to major label stars. Full-lengths Plans, Narrow Stairs (QRO review), and Codes and Keys (QRO review) have all been critical and commercial successes, which have also been warmly received by long-term fans as well. Frontman Benjamin Gibbard may have evolved from geek to chic to the point that he married adorkable New Girl Zooey Deschanel (also ‘she’ of She & Him – QRO live review), but the group took their brighter turn well with Codes. Now comes Kintsugi, which only suffers in light of high expectations – and some slightly overdone lyrics from Mr. Gibbard.
Sonically, Kintsugi has all the Death Cab For Cutie hallmarks that one is looking for in a new album from them: the accomplished, intimate-yet-expansive alt-effects that have made them such a success. It tilts a little away from the brightness of Codes while retaining the indietronic bent of that record (if not to the extent as Gibbard’s indietronic genre-founding side project, The Postal Service – QRO album review). It’s just that, at this point, it doesn’t come as such a surprise, “Ho-hum, just another really nice Death Cab record…”
The item that really stands out is Gibbard’s lyrics, as numerous songs mine the ‘effects of tech on modern life’ vein – “No Room In Frame” brings the photo craze to a break-up, “Little Wanderer” is about the distance in the modern world, “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)” focuses on pampered celebrity (with an enjoyable Death Cab take on disco), and Atlas the Titan meets social media in closer “Binary Sea”. Gibbard doesn’t overdo it (except for maybe “Binary”, perhaps just because it comes after all of the others), but it’s hard not to sound repetitive and slightly trying-to-sound-relevant-but-also-observant on what is a tricky path to walk (to see this aspect done well, check out Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots – QRO review).
Also, Gibbard and Deschanel divorced after Codes, and while that may have had nothing to do with the sad songs about a lost love on Kintsugi (it’s not like Gibbard hasn’t sung about that long before she ever appeared on the scene), once you have that idea in your head, it’s really hard to shake. Celeb-center “Good Help” and the following looking for “El Dorado” in Los Angeles particularly hook in this vein. But if you were a songwriter of the caliber and success of Ben Gibbard, and you divorced a woman like Zooey Deschanel, wouldn’t you sing about it?…
Kintsugi is a strong record that really can only be knocked when it is put in comparison with other Death Cab For Cutie records, and even then it’s a nice addition to a very strong discography.