With 2011’s “Codes and Keys,” indie rock giants Death Cab for Cutie abandoned its trademark gloom and lost love sentiments to celebrate life and love thanks to front man Ben Gibbard’s marriage to actress Zooey Deschanel. Four years and one divorce later, the heartache and despondency return on their follow-up, “Kintsugi.”
The album is named after the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by treating the breakage as a part of the object’s history instead of something to hide. It sees Gibbard deal with his failed marriage as well as the departure of founding member and lead guitarist Chris Walla.
Opening the album is “No Room in Frame,” which bumps along to a jaunty drum beat, with Gibbard wondering out loud, “Was I in your way/ When the cameras turned to face you?/ No room in frame for two.” He laments for his lost marriage on this track, as he cannot yet move on. “I guess it’s not a failure we could help/ We’ll both go on to be lonely with someone else,” he sings as the track fades out.
“Black Sun” comes next. The first single from the album, it is a moody, dark tune accompanied by sharp guitars and electronic elements that add another dimension to the track, which flares up into an unexpectedly fiery distorted guitar solo halfway through.
The up-tempo third track, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” is a welcome change-of-pace and is one of the highlights of the entire album. It’s driven by a catchy riff and a singable chorus whose “I don’t know why / I don’t know why” refrain will immediately find a home in your brain.
Gibbard and company slow it down again on “Little Wanderer,” but this time there is a sweet element in lieu of a sad one to the song, as he sings “Won’t you wander back to me?” They follow it up with “You’ve Haunted Me All my Life,” an unplugged effort that emphasizes the heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics of Gibbard, who describes “The mistress I can’t make a wife.”
They keep the acoustic guitar out for another track, “Hold No Guns,” before taking a left turn for the electronic-tinged “Everything’s a Ceiling” and “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find).” “Good Help” turns it up to a rollicking pace, something the band doesn’t do often. The lively ‘70s era guitars make the track a danceable, fun departure for Cutie.
“El Dorado” comes next, with mournful riffs and lo-fi vocals; this track carries a stirring, wistful presence to the finish line. It’s followed up with the more confident, upbeat “Ingénue,” whose bright, inspired guitarwork is the true spotlight of the song.
The album draws to a close with “Binary Sea,” a piano-driven ballad with vague, metaphoric lyrics depicting “seas of ones and zeroes” and the Greek Titan Atlas struggling to lift the world up.
“Kintsugi” is an album that sees Death Cab for Cutie return to the pensive, lovelorn form of which they are most at home. Despite this, the album doesn’t feel rehashed, as the band experiments with new sounds and a more personal approach to the songs. With this effort, Cutie likely crafted one of the best breakup albums of 2015.