sad boi sundayz 2 (wednesday edition): death cab for cutie
by Jeremy Alben on April 15, 2015
Posted in: Album Review, Rock
Proctor at this hour is a mixed bag. There are mornings where the energy in the booth room is focused and calm. Sunlight trickles in from the emergency exit and somehow it doesn’t matter that your booth is too small. Then there are mornings like today. Into my happy cave (á la Fight Club) stumble a horde of biddies that have seemingly never gazed upon this holy land. They nest in the adjacent booth chattering about how fetch the headbands they purchased at the bookstore are. I feel my brain slowly melting. Grey matter flowing out of my ears. All I want to do is “Slide” but alas I am subject to the shrill calls of the Atwater flock. In this despairing moment I slip my headphones in and turn on an album as disappointing as walking into a corrupted booth room.
My subject this week is Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio album Kintsugi. Before I delve into the album, which derives its name from a Japanese method of mending pottery, I feel compelled to profess my love for DCFC. Hot on the heels of Plans, ten year-old Jeremy and his older sister Emily exuberantly piled into the car on their way to the Paramount Theater in Seattle. While I would later come to appreciate the depth of DCFC’s earlier catalogue, Plans was the defining album of my tween and early teen years. The image of Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla opening the show with “Marching Bands of Manhattan” under blue light is forever ingrained in my memory. The album resonated not only with my fledgling emo-tions but also with my experience of hailing from the PNW. It was at once deeply personal and all encompassing of my lived experience. As a 13 year-old going through my parent’s divorce I found comfort in “Narrow Stairs” and had my first kiss to “I Will Possess Your Heart” which, in retrospect, is a bit bizarre given the context of the song.
When I heard Kintsugi was in the works I couldn’t help but build up my expectations. Following a middling album in Codes and Keys, full of busy arrangements devoid of the personal narratives that made DCFC so engaging, I hoped that the “new direction” of Kintsugi would take shape in a contemplative album more focused on the individual. Singles “Black Sun” and “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” harken back to the glory days of the band. Gibbard is once again a revealing and charismatic orator, divulging his frustration and sadness surrounding his relationship with Zooey Deschanel. “No Room In Frame,” the albums opener is firmly in the vein of “Bixby Canyon Bridge” and “Marching Bands” before it. Here is the Death Cab I had hoped for. The sensitive falsetto of Gibbard acting as a guiding light for every sad Seattle boi. If only the good times could last.
Kintsugi, true to its etymology, is a shattered album. The nostalgic grooves of the first three tracks are the base of an artifact, which has been pieced together with ill-fitting reproductions of the original. “Little Wander” is a pathetic effort in recalling a lost loved one. The contrived lyrics feel disingenuous throughout as Gibbard whines over a mesh of synths and convoluted guitar parts. “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” continues the streak of recycled “love lost” tropes, this time with a misogynist bent, referring to who I assume to be Zooey as his mistress. The following tracks drift into a synth heavy mode, straining to mimic the charm of Postal service but ultimately the disco beats are hollow imitations. “Binary Sea” represents perhaps the greatest tragedy of the album. The song is a fine ballad with all of the familiar DCFC stereotypes but one can’t help recall the title track from 2003’s Transatlanticism. The yearning of the former is here reproduced in a stoic monotone laced with oohs and ahs. Perhaps it’s an apt closing to an album hoping to move forward but paradoxically obsessed with a past that it can’t quite recreate. Listen for the memories and shed a tear on this dreary Wednesday.
Watch Death Cab For Cutie’s recent Tiny Desk Concert and listen to Kintsugi below: