Kintsugi Review

There has been so much good music released since the start of 2015. A majority of my favorite acts have released new albums and for the most part they’ve all topped themselves.

I can’t say enough how good all of these albums are. Go buy:

Punch Brothers: “The Phosphorescent Blues”
Modest Mouse: “Strangers to Ourselves”
Sufjan Stevens: “Carrie and Lowell”
Death Cab For Cutie: “Kintsugi”

There seems to be a quarter-life existentialism thread running through each; the artists are older and I’m imagining that their core fanbases are as well. Lyrically and musically there’s an incredible thoughtfulness. These artists are no longer singing about rye whiskey, or skipping class to make-out in the backseats of their cars.

This week saw the release of the Sufjan and Death Cab albums. Far better writers, far worse, and every one in between has written about “Carrie and Lowell.” But I’ve not seen a lot of reflections on “Kintsugi” which is a shame because it’s Death Cab’s best album since “Transatlanticism.”

DCFC-Kintsugi-780x780I was midway through high school when “Transatlanticism” came out. It’s title track especially has become a touchstone for me. Ben Gibbard singing “I need you so much closer” repeatedly over a driving quarter note groove that crescendos to its breaking point “so come on” still breaks my heart 12 years later. Like all teenagers I had lots of emotions when I was a teenager. But something about that jam has stuck with me emotionally and spiritually.

I remember leading worship at youth group with my good friend, Dan Alcantara, for ten minutes singing the Death Cab mantra pleading with God to be “so much closer.” In college I had two emotionally charged long distance relationships and that song and the whole album were like a safety blanket.

But every album Death Cab has released since has been a mixed bag for me, never quite reaching the thrills of “Transatlanticism.” Over the past decade or so I’ve listened to them less and less, maybe checking in when I’ve been struggling with a severe case of the Nostalgics. So their new album wasn’t on my radar. Honestly, I only gave it a listen because I couldn’t handle all of the feels of Sufjan’s new album.

But I was blown away by it.

“Transatlanticism” is emotionally resonant only as a time capsule to my late teens/early 20s but “Kintsugi” has fully landed on more mature ears. Ben Gibbard’s voice sounds older and the lyrics don’t have the emotional punch of adolescent love but sound like letters written from life experience.

Their new album “Kintsugi” is an apt name. Gibbard divorced his wife, hipster darling Zooey Deschanel, in 2011 right after their awful album “Codes and Keys” came out and multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Walla quit the band last year. This is the first album Walla didn’t produce and you can tell. Anyways, “Kintsugi” is a Japanese art form where broken pottery is pieced back together with gold, celebrating the cracks. Given it’s title I think more reviewers were expecting the album to be as raw as previous albums. But it’s not. It’s methodical, it’s accessible. There are obvious cracks in the lyrics, moments. But overall it’s an emotionally stable album of good to decent pop songs.

Being happily married, having a child, and an ever widening bald spot the earlier Death Cab material that I loved can sound foreign to me but this consistent, stable sound is more fitting to where life has me now.

My favorite tracks are “Black Sun,” “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” and “Ingenue.” The other tracks that don’t stand out as much, particularly “Hold No Guns” and “Everything’s a Ceiling,” don’t ever feel like filler, they’re good tunes. The only real misstep is “Binary Sea,” the Atlas lyrics are trite enough to be distracting to me.

Of all the albums released this year this one is the easiest listening, and the least artistically ambitious but it’s good. Worthy of sitting on the shelf with their best albums.

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Kintsugi Review