There aren’t many acts in the indie-rock community who can boast the respect, commercial appeal and relevant longevity as Death Cab For Cutie. They’ve been at it for years and despite having some beloved classic records in their repertoire they can still cause a hubbub with new music as proved by the announcement of their eighth full-length Kintsugi.
One of the album’s key storylines that must be mentioned is the departure of Chris Walla who has served the band in guitar, piano and – most importantly – production since the late ‘90s. By bringing in an external producer for the first time in the group’s history and demoting Walla to more of a session player’s role for this, his final record as a member of the band, Kintsugi was always going to stand out from Death Cab’s discography and well, to be honest, it does.
For one, many of the songs here almost feel like solo songs of frontman Ben Gibbard as opposed to a full band. While Death Cab was primarily birthed as the brainchild of Gibbard and hasn’t exactly strayed too far from this over the years, the increased use of subtle electronics that continue from 2011’s Codes & Keys sometimes replaces the character that his bandmates’ instrumental ability can bring. This time around Nick Harmer’s bass and Jason McGerr’s drums which often helped tell the story in older songs such as ‘Cath…’ or ‘Summer Skin’ are usually restricted to simply maintaining a solid rhythm section instead.
Then again, can one really complain when many of the tracks here are so strong? Right off the bat are the four singles that whetted appetites for the album and they showcase both the band and Gibbard’s detailed lyricism on fine form indeed. ‘No Room In Frame’ glides along elegantly on top of a pretty synth loop while ‘Black Sun’ contrastingly is a darker affair featuring some almost-trance synths (it works better than you’d think, I swear) and the album’s most aggressive guitar work. The record’s second half meanwhile leans on the band’s proven, slower side a lot more and despite the forgettable ‘El Dorado’ produces some fantastic moments in the 80s-flirting gem ‘Everything’s A Ceiling’ and the massive-sounding closer ‘Binary Sea’.
Whilst perhaps not besting some of the band’s most loved work and hardly reinventing the wheel in terms of the band’s sound, Kintsugi continues Death Cab’s impressive streak of consistently strong records and begins their post-Walla chapter in an exciting place.