In Japanese culture, the term “kintsugi” refers to the fixing of broken pottery in such a way as to highlight the break and repair. Often using gold, silver, or platinum, the technique underscores the history of the object and embraces its imperfections. Kintsugi can render a piece powerfully transformed, its scars reimagined as rites of passage. A more fitting name could hardly be found to underscore the new album from Washington band Death Cab for Cutie, who released its eighth studio album Tuesday.
The evolution of Death Cab’s sound, which seemed somewhat stunted in the previous album Codes and Keys, has returned in a powerful way that is reminiscent of their earlier progression in albums such as Transatlanticism, Plans, and Narrow Stairs. Whereas previous compositions often leaned on the clean sounds of acoustic guitar and piano as their foundation, Kintsugi is unapologetically an electric guitar album with powerful electronic and synth undertones. Vocal distortion is used to intriguing ends in a number of places. What DCFC manages to achieve here is a seamless synthesis of artistic ambition with the passion for technical perfection that they have been cultivating in more recent years, as seen in their 2013 remastering of Transatlanticism.
Front man Ben Gibbard is known for infusing his songs with personal significance, often presenting himself in a very forthright manner. Relationships have always been prominent as a storytelling motif for him, and Kintsugi is perhaps the most candid of his efforts so far. Coming out in the wake of Gibbard’s 2012 divorce and subsequent relationships, as well as the departure of the band’s 17-year guitarist and songwriter Chris Walla (who was a vital part of the post-production team), the new album offers some of DCFC’s most emotionally honest material. Where some fans had been disappointed by the C&K, those who love Gibbard’s musical persona and storytelling are likely to be magnetically drawn back in.
One of the tracks to be released early as a single, “Black Sun,” is especially emblematic of all the album’s themes, as captured in the lines, “And all our debris flows to the ocean / To meet again, I hope it will.” The repairing process of kintsugi is found not only in the reunion of broken parts, but also in the travels that both wash and weather them. Kintsugi extends an invitation to its listeners to participate in that process, openly sparring with pain, appreciating the scars left behind as mementos, and admiring the stories they signify.