Death Cab for Cutie:  Kintsugi


"Death Cab For Cutie - Kintsugi" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

“Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4 out of 5.

I had a boss once that told me that no matter how much money you make, you will still have problems.  I think it was an excuse for not giving me a well-deserved raise–but I digress…

So what is a Kintsugi?  It is a Japanese term meaning golden joinery.  It is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.

And Ben Gibbard might be broken.  His marriage is over.  More recently, the band’s longtime relationship with member Chris Walla ended.  While Gibbard is the band’s front man, Walla is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and, notably, record producer.

Which leaves Gibbard in a state.  After nearly two decades as one of the world’s most successful artists, Gibbard may well be feeling trapped and unfulfilled.  The band has talked about their unusual life together and how difficult it is to normal relationships.  And now one member of this odd seventeen year relationship is departing.

It is easy to imagine that they are feeling trapped in a dream that is difficult to abandon.

What’s to like about Death Cab for Cutie?

  • These guys play great music by using their heads.
  • Great textures.
  • A terrific, innovative rhythm section.
  • Clean layering of guitars.
  • Ben Gibbard’s compelling and likable voice.
  • Interesting lyrics and high quality songs.

What I would like to see more of in Death Cab for Cutie?

  • More vocal harmonies.
  • Some element of anger in the sound in songs that are about anger.
  • Let’s rock some more!

“No Room in Frame” begins the record.  It has the classic DCFC sound.  Gibbard’s high compelling voice, layering of instruments that build intrigue, a clean, interesting guitar solo, a driving rhythm section that wants to take the song to the stratosphere.  Triplets in the drums!

The song is the record’s opener and second single.  It was written by Gibbard and bass player Nick Harmer, but the thoughts seem to belong to Gibbard.  It is a straightforward ode to emptiness over the breakup of his marriage.

“I don’t know where to begin….,” he sings to his actress ex-wife.  “Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you?  No room in frame for two.”

Kintsugi clearly expresses the agony in Gibbard’s life.  But, like a lover hoping against hope that there can be a reconciliation, he won’t assign blame.  “I guess it’s not a failure we could help and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”  (His ex-wife has recently announced her pregnancy and engagement.)

The first single was “Black Sun” and it was written by Gibbard.  Similar themes of loss pervade the song and the album.

Songwriters, however, are not required to write non-fiction.  In fact, different ideas and themes can find themselves in a single line, verse, or song.  One wonders if this song is about his ex-wife, his ex-bandmate, or both.  But it is plainly about loss.

The song layers with clean guitar and Jason McGerr’s driving drums.  Quickly, Harmer’s bass line wanders into the thought adding texture, followed by keyboards.  The band adds interesting sounds and a rare distorted guitar solo.

The album closes with “Binary Sea.”  A weary Gibbard tells us that Atlas could not understand his task, even in a simpler world.  And when he failed, the world laughed:

“As you watched him struggle to his feet
You took photos capturing his defeat
And messaged them to all your friends
And we all laughed at his expense”

How the mighty fall….  But he and his remaining bandmates intend to persevere and they intend to do their best to make their mark.

“For if there is no document
We cannot build our monument
So look into the lens and
I’ll make sure this moment never dies”

And in the end, “There’s something brilliant bound to happen here.”  But there is an aura on uncertainty in the sounds that accompany the statement.

What troubles me about this record is that it is schizophrenic.  Lyrically, it is a blues record.  It is written from a painful perspective.  It is a record of the loss and the agony that accompanied both the loss and the process of loss

But it doesn’t sound like a blues record.   It sounds beautiful .  Gibbard’s high range sounds optimistic and adds to the beauty.  It most definitely lacks anger.  This results in a discordance in this record.  The anger and the pain—the blues–are hidden in the lyrics and decipherable only after a deep dive into the sounds.

The first few times that I listened to this album, I heard a beautiful record.  But I continued to search for its soul.  Now, after listening to it many times, it is beginning to bring tears to my eyes.  Precious loss is something that we all continually experience.  And it is sad.

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