by Stephanie Holstein ’18
When watching one of your beloved television shows, you may worry that by the eighth season, the actors will lose their flair, the plot will slacken, or the writing will become unoriginal. In the case of musical groups, Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio album, Kintsugi, defies this stereotype. Made up of 11 hauntingly beautiful songs, this album signifies a progression in the band’s sound yet demonstrates their dedication to the mellow, carefully crafted style they have spent the past 17 years cultivating.
While the news of frontman Ben Gibbard’s divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel in 2012 has become old news, every song featured on the new album is tinged with heartbreak and irrevocable loss, very much like Coldplay’s latest album, Ghost Stories, created after singer Chris Martin’s split with actress Gwyneth Paltrow. However, despite the circumstances in which both albums were created, the emotions stemming from separation are universal, and Gibbard’s brilliant lyrics manage to perfectly capture how we feel in these situations.
The album’s first sign of promise lies in the meaning behind the title. Named after the Japanese concept of repairing broken pottery, the title adds a spiritual and emotional dimension to the concept album. By naming the album after broken pottery, the band is alluding to the trials of a broken heart, transforming the tone of the album into an introspective study of what went wrong.
Kintsugi opens with the song “No Room in Frame,” in which feelings of nostalgia and heartbreak are solidified as two major themes throughout the 45-minute album. By the time Gibbard reaches the chorus and asks the question, “Was I in your way, when the cameras turned to face you?” it is clear the remaining 10 songs will deal with the miscommunication and inevitable end of a relationship between two people. In every song, there are vague allusions to Deschanel, most notably in the song “Ingenue,” in which the title almost describes the actress herself.
While much of the band’s sound is very much the same as their previous seven records, it is clear the band has fully returned to guitar-driven ballads after experimenting with keyboard-led songs in previous albums such as Transatlanticism and Plans. Regardless of the instrument, one element of Death Cab for Cutie that has never changed and remains present in Kintsugi is the ease in which the band enters into two- or three-minute instrumental solos, which feel effortless and just as emotive as the lyrics themselves.
If you’re aware of the broken-hearted, love-lorn place Gibbard is coming from in this album, it is difficult to ignore the songwriter’s personal circumstances. However, I find that this public declaration of Gibbard silently saying “I’m not okay, but I will be” makes every note, every word, much more powerful, as his own personal struggle gives the songs a voice that we are forced to recognize and respond to.
Thanks to Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie has not lost a single ounce of their dreamy, indie-pop style, but has rather added something to it. This overtly personal album signifies a time of growth in the band similar to the growth of a human being. Just as we grow older, Death Cab for Cutie’s sound has evolved into something wiser and more confident, and I can’t wait to see where they take their style next.
Here are a few songs off of Death Cab for Cutie’s new album, Kintsugi, now available on iTunes and online streaming on Spotify.
“No Room in Frame”