It feels a bit strange hearing this breakup album, a record that could perfectly soundtrack your angst-ridden teenage years, from a band well past their adolescence. Death Cab For Cutie are perpetually on the verge of growing up, and while Kintsugi is as good as the rest of their efforts, it just lacks that development we’d expect from a band nearly 18 years into its life.
It’s about an assortment of breakups – guitarist and producer Chris Walla left the band in September, not long after singer and wordsmith Ben Gibbard divorced 500 Days Of Summer’s Zooey Deschanel after a two year marriage. The word ‘kintsugi’ describes a Japanese artform; something about fixing pottery, or a person.
So like every Death Cab record before it (except maybe Codes and Keys, made during the Gibbard-Deschanel honeymoon period), this eighth full-length effort deals with vague ideas of loneliness, separation and lack of direction.
That’s not to say the music’s not still interesting, because Gibbard is a genuinely terrific songwriter, with no shortage of clever lyrics. Kintsugi also sees the band explore ’80s synths, and come as close as they may ever to a dancey sound in Good Help.
It’s an interesting milestone too, for Death Cab, with the departure of Walla meaning the band were left without an in-house producer and outsourcing for the first time. Rich Costey, whose impressive résumé includes Foster The People, Muse and Chvrches, makes the album a little less cohesive than their tightly intertwined predecessors, but the variety is what gives the record distinction, and from nearly-dance to the rock and roll-esque The Ghosts of Beverley Drive it’s rarely predictable.
For die-hard Death Cab fans, Kintsugi isn’t a disappointment at all – it’s undeniably them, just with the freshness of a new producer. It’s not genre-defining or band-defining, though, nor is it up there with the best breakup albums, which at times feels like a title the album is trying to claim. Come on, Gibbard, everyone knows that trophy belongs to Noah & The Whale’s The First Days of Spring.
‘Kintsugi’ is out now via Atlantic Records.