At the close of last month, Washington-bred indie rock band, Death Cab for Cutie, released their eighth studio album, Kintsugi and it is, as ever, lovely. Ben Gibbard’s unrivaled lyricism is recognizably, familiarly poignant and charming, without sounding stale. His voice, singing his cleverly, tenderly arranged words, backgrounded with the group’s signature catchy-but-never-cloying music, is like a welcome old sonic friend.
As a whole the album paces itself nicely, starting out slow, building in tempo and rhythm in the middle, then rounding down at the close with the slow, mournful strains of Binary Sea.
Stand out amongst the eleven tracks is the fourth, Little Wanderer. This is a listen-to-on-unrelenting-repeat job. Even as the words sound sad, listening to it almost can’t help but bring about a smile, it’s just that good. With lines like:
But if you will be my bluebird returning
Then I will be your evergreen
Standing tall on your horizon
Guiding you home to me,
it is a rueful, tuneful song about love lost and found and stretched to near crippling, but at its close (aside from wanting to start it over again), I’m left feeling something’s been gained, not lost. It puts me in mind of Passenger Seat, from 2003’s Transatlanticism, specifically the lines:
I strain my eyes and try
To tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites
From the passenger seat as you are driving me home
"Do they collide?”
I ask and you smile
With my feet on the dash
The world doesn't matter
When you feel embarrassed then I'll be your pride
When you need directions then I’ll be the guide
For all time.
Ben Gibbard can be evergreen, lighthouse, map—all of it.
Around tracks 7, 8, 9 (Everything’s a Ceiling, Good Help (Is So Hard to Find), and El Dorado, respectively), DCFC pick things up and the tempo increase paired with Gibbard’s thoughtful lyrics make this chunk of the album unabashedly catchy, though not without still having something to say.
I hear the opening, deliciously atavistic, synthy chords of Good Help (Is So Hard to Find) and am immediately put in mind of a cluster of cocktail-swilling collegiates clad in Members Only jackets and Sperrys; I love this. And with lines like
You said you wanna stake out your claim
High above the city from where you came
Don't you know the air's so thin?
It starves the brain of oxygen
I know it's such a dangerous place
For there are more ascensions than there is space
Angels causing accidents
The camera phones'll document
But if I start to levitate
Pull me down with all your weight,
the song’s undeniable fun, catchy feel belies (in perfect DCFC style) the real poeticism there.
El Dorado, the album’s ninth track, is made for a full blown window roll-down. It seems meant to be driven with. While it is purportedly to do with Gibbard’s inability to cull up matching enthusiasm for now ex-wife Zooey Deschanel’s clinching of her New Girl role, there’s too much goodness here to feel sad upon listening. At the same time, while this quality seems, in part, epitomizing of the sound and feel of many a Death Cab song, it never feels like Gibbard is striving for irony. And while he is not someone I generally think of as sexy, when Gibbard’s voice pulls and stretches out the fricative F as he professes that ‘I tried to be hyped for you,’ I sort of can’t help but imagine the shape his mouth takes as he does this.
All in all, this album feels squarely, pleasingly like true blue Death Cab. It is recognizably them without sounding or feeling redundant and should be listened to. Over and over.