Who It Is: Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi; Atlantic Records (2015)
What It Sounds Like: The Postal Service, Built to Spill
Death Cab For Cutie are nothing short of prolific. Ben Gibbard and Co. have completely shaped the landscape of indie rock over the last 15+ years, going from a tiny cassette driven Seattle lo-fi group to the arena rock goliath they are today. Albums like Transatlanticism will always be included among the greatest indie records of all time. Death Cab For Cutie consistently wrote unbelievably solid music, album after album, creating a legacy unlike anyone else in the genre. Side projects such as The Postal Service took on their own enigmatic aura as well, being the gateway for many to electronic, and opening up a whole world of electronica driven rock music.
Let’s be real for a second, though; Death Cab’s last effort, 2011’s Codes and Keys, wasn’t very entertaining. Yes, there were definitely a few great songs (e.g. “You’re A Tourist”, “Stay Young, Go Dancing”), but for the first time, emo fans, fans of the most boring genre, were bored by Death Cab. Songs like “Unobstructed Views” felt more long-winded than the eight and a half minute “I Will Possess Your Heart”. There was just no meat to it. I’ve spent the years since Codes and Keys praying for another Narrow Stairs. I wanted a heavier, guitar driven record with songs I could yell at the top of my lungs like “Cath…”; I guess I sort of got what I wanted.
Kintsugi is smack dab in the middle between Death Cab and The Postal Service. Electronic glitches and drum machines show up in much of the record, with Gibbard’s voice sticking out far beyond the realm of instrumentation. There are completely guitar driven tracks and songs that tap the same vein as the pittering acoustic track “Passenger Seat.” The fifth track, “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” is bound to be one of the greatest concert sing-alongs ever concocted, despite its dragging tempo.
There’s some weird shit, too. The listener almost anticipates a heartfelt rendition of the Jay-Z classic “Young Forever” when “Everything’s a Ceiling” kicked in with synthesizers and very prominent (and confidant) drum machine beats. A pretty obvious U2 influence shines through with an Edge-style palm muted guitar riff after the first verse, paired with a tambourine that adds an incredibly satisfactory extra layer to the mix.
Chase This Light-era Jimmy Eat World peeks out in “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find),” giving it the strongest dance sensibility of any Death Cab song to ever be conceived. It teeters on the verge of cheesy for an uncomfortably long time before the chorus’ descending chord progression paired with Gibbard’s falsetto vocals make up for any doubt completely. “El Dorado” slides in with a mountains worth of chorus and reverb, closely followed by a frantic drum machine and almost monotone vocals. The tremolo battling against the the watery-est synthesizers ever created complete the bridge, sounding more like a Postal Service B-Side than anything Death Cab for Cutie has produced. Gibbard’s looped vocals in lieu of a guitar part of “Ingenue” has a stronger Lorde vide than anything on Lorde’s 2014 album Pure Heroine. The pop appeal is palpable.
And then, there’s “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”. This is the best song this band has ever written. The overdriven guitar verse with the the vibraphone pre-chorus are positively heart-melting. The indie-pop chorus featuring chorus “oohs” ties every facet of this song together in the greatest way imaginable. The lyrics are some of the most simple on the record but rightfully hold their place in the listeners head far after listening. “I don’t know why, I don’t know why I return to the scene of this crime,” rings in my head constantly. It’s almost indescribable; all that can really be said is that Death Cab may have hit the pinnacle of indie rock. Who knows how much better it can get after this?
As a whole, it’s very possible that this is Death Cab For Cutie’s strongest album to date. It hurt a little bit to write that (Transatlanticism had always held that spot uncontested in my mind), but it’s pretty hard to debate. Maybe this record would be a ten had we gotten thirteen “The Ghost of Beverly Drive”’s, but that’s a lot to ask. Enjoy this for what it is, and that is the greatest collection of music ever released by Death Cab. Bask in its glory.
You Should Probably Listen To: “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life”
Overall Rating: 9/10