With the advent of Death Cab For Cutie in Malaysia on Feb 2016 – my ticket is safely tucked into my laptop – I plunged into their latest album way too soon with way too much enthusiasm. I’ve been a fan for quite some time now, if not a regular follower, and was eager to get that particular feel that comes with every DCFC album: Ben Gibbard’s smooth vocals over melodious guitar, beautiful and obscure lyrics, a strain of melancholy.
I got it all. In fact, a bit too much of it.
Every DCFC album till now has redefined the band’s image and musical style. They took risks and strange tangents in terms of instruments, Gibbard’s voice, and the structure of each track. The same does not hold true for this album, despite its whole selling point being novelty. This is the aspect highlighted in its name, Kintsugi – a remaking of broken pottery through bringing in new elements, mainly silver or gold. I expected a much more innovative, artistically revolutionary experience, only to be quite disappointed. This could be because, although Chris Walla has left their ranks, he was still fully involved in the making of this album; it is the tour he is missing out on. Every track on this album, though undoubtedly possessing the charm of excellent musical sensibilities, offers very little that is strikingly new.
The album’s two singles – ‘Black Sun’ and ‘The Ghosts of Beverley Drive’ – have very catchy riffs, the slurring repetition of the chorus sounding perfect with Gibbard’s inflections. The lyrics are not as imaginatively brilliant as the ones in their album Plans, thus having nowhere near the same power, but still retain symbolism that is heavy and intriguing. Production definitely steps closer to the spotlight in this album, which is the most remarkable feature of both tracks.
The soulful ballads ‘Hold No Guns’ and ‘Ingenue’ are probably the freshest thing about this album. Never has Gibbard’s voice been so alone and vulnerable as it croons over love beyond lost – love that is a bit messed up. The simplicity in tempo and instruments mixes with a tune that follows no template as he sings “My love, why do you run/ for my hands hold no guns”. It even beats the nakedness in ‘Lack of Colour’ from Transatlanticism, for it does not follow a narrative style. Instead, it is dizzy and hopelessly lost in its own swirling melodies. ‘Ingenue’ is a fascinating mix of poison and softness that falls with disturbing effect upon the ear. The song creates that balance between “I hate you” and “I am not exactly malicious about it”.
Other than that, I immediately recognised some repetition. Not only does the theme of long distance relationships in ‘Little Wanderer’ draw back to the whole album of Transatlanticism, its tune merges with that of ‘Ghosts of Beverley Drive’. ‘Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)’ has elements of ‘The Sound of Settling’ to it, and ‘Binary Sea’ has the same tide-like progression as ‘Death of an Interior Decorator’ – both from a previous album. They are not exact replicas, but they are not innovative either.
However, it is undeniable that Kintsugi’s production moves flawlessly with Gibbard’s voice, with a higher tempo this time and a more slick rhythm. The complexity of the instruments makes itself felt, and the signature ingenuity of lyrics shines out. Gibbard’s vocal control is, as always, impressively nigh perfect.
Still, I believe the real effect of Kintsugi, the colour and quality of the metal that breaks up the broken pottery of this particular band, will be clearer in their next album. The band has yet to prove itself, in any way, as redefined.
By Nafisa Tabassum Choudhury
Header Image Source: Rolling Stone.com