Death Cab for Cutie's eighth album—and first since the departure of 17-year guitarist/producer Chris Walla—is out today. Our staff spent a week listening to the album (thanks for that stream, NPR!) and emailing about it. Here's the Fuse listening party for Kintsugi.
Zach Dionne: Happy and relieved to report that I enjoy this album! Still haven't made heads or tails of 2008's Narrow Stairs or 2011's Codes and Keys yet—great songs, great overarching feelings of boredom and anxiousness—and this one feels like it'll settle quicker. I don't think I'm going to have a problem replaying it early and often.
Jumping into the middle of the record (11 songs, 45 minutes): "You've Haunted Me All My Life" is acoustic with light touches of this oceanic feel that gives me me always-welcome Transatlanticism vibes. Then "Hold No Guns" comes up right after, also acoustic, but way smaller, more solo-Gibbardian. THEN: "Everything's a Ceiling," track seven. This is "new Death Cab"—1980s hand clap electric drum-kit rock filtered through the DCFC-brand Brita pitcher. In general, the back half of Kintsugi has more surprises and takes more chances.
Kind of feels like Ben Gibbard's stuck in a melody wheel, though, where he's got a semi-small handful of notes and patterns he can't get out of? Anyone think so? Anyone here go ALL THE WAY BACK with Death Cab? I want to hear a tirade about sellouts and shitty albums!
Taylor Brown: "Melody wheel" is a good way to put it. If the band is taking chances, I'm not hearing many. Everything about this album seems incredibly safe to me, which actually isn't a bad way for a band to age gracefully into their third decade of existence. At least there's enough on here to keep them in rotation on the radio, and there's enough wordiness from Gibbard to keep the fans happy, most likely. But I can't imagine returning to this album very much, if at all.
Carlos Ramirez: Death Cab lost me around the time of their Plans album. I hate to be that “I liked them better before they signed with a major” kind of asshole, but I preferred their earlier material best. That said, there are a couple of songs on Kintsugi that grabbed me. In particular, the bouncy new wave of “Everything’s a Ceiling” could have been lifted from the soundtrack to an ‘80s John Hughes movie. I wish Kintsugi would have included more pop-crusted moments like that.
Jeff Benjamin: Man, Ben Gibbard’s voice is so comforting. (My first thought within the first 20 seconds of Kintsugi. More to come…)
Maria Sherman: I agree with Taylor's observation of the safety of the record but have we ever considered Death Cab for Cutie to be a particularly experimental band? Their place in the indie rock canon was safe enough for The O.C. The excitement of the band comes from thinky lyrical themes; these are smart guys writing smart music for smart people. Decades later, they know the equation. It feels reassuring that Gibbard is as sad and confused as ever before. That shit is timeless.
All that being said, I miss the other smart guy: Christopher Walla, where art thou? And one more thought (should've written this as bullet points but whatever): I am very into the dreampop guitar riff on "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive." Hip move, gentlemen!
Taylor Brown: They've never been an "experimental" band musically, but Walla's production definitely put the band in more sonically interesting areas. I would say he took way more risks as a producer than Rich Costey (Muse, Young the Giant, Jane's Addiction) did on this one. Hand claps and '80s-indebted production do not qualify as taking chances. Everyone's doing that. Walla did write parts on this album, but Costey's production is so clean and shiny in comparison to how Walla recorded this band. I actually think the songwriting on here is pretty good overall, but the production saps Kintsugi of character.
Zach Dionne: Y'all are sharp. Jeff, bring us home in your personalized death cab.
Jeff Benjamin: For Kintsugi as a whole, I feel like Death Cab's found a way to push people's buttons with a little more experimentation before there's a complete album sans Walla. A dreamy synth break, some fuzzy, heavy guitars, why not? They're still the DCFC we know and love…at least on record. The songs will stick out onstage (so will Walla’s absence) and that's sometimes needed when your band's going on this long. According to mylast.fm, Codes and Keys was one of my most-played albums of 2011, but I can’t recall the songs at the moment.
I'm actually more curious to see where Gibbard & the Guys go with the next album. Right now, they've sort of got the safety net to experiment, but I wonder if Death Cab 2.0 will end up flat-out alienating people or wind up finding a new perfect medium. Fingers crossed for the latter, as having a new Death Cab album is like a long-awaited lollipop that you can suck on for a really long time. Weird metaphor? Maybe, but again…Ben’s voice is just so comforting even if his backing production sounds a little unfamiliar.