I can’t believe there’s a new Death Cab album. I’d literally given up all hope. But, like the album suggests, the band wasn’t completely unfixable– Kintsugi is an allusion to the Japanese art of repairing previously broken or cracked pottery or other ceramics with a certain “glue” or lacquer that has been mixed with gold to fill in the cracks and leave them visible. This highlights the wear and tear of the object, the struggle, and embraces its imperfections.
It means, quite literally, “golden joinery,” a term which can be taken literally or figuratively– the band itself is a form of golden joinery, a golden group of people who’ve come together to record magical music.
It’s been four years since Codes and Keys came out. Then Chris Walla, guitarist and songwriter, decided to leave the group. Hearts were shattered. Lives were ruined. Though the band wasn’t over, it felt like it. Walla’s importance to the group was crucial. While he wasn’t the voice to hear, he was the voice to listen to, as his songwriting made so much of the albums exactly what they were. I didn’t expect another Death Cab album– or at least, I didn’t expect a good one.
Yet, despite his announcement, Walla stayed on in the band and helped with the creative process. That being said, Kintsugi also was the first album he didn’t properly produce, and the band was forced to work with an outside producer for the first time. This distance is noticeable with the album– not painfully obvious, but for fans who have been following Death Cab for a while, doubt can be heard, and the uncertainty in shifting back to their earlier sound is present, like “Is this good? Yes?” they question. It’s understandable: for the first time since the band’s inception, they’ve had to deal with a producer who didn’t know the intricacies of the group’s sound and processes and creation, and let someone who wasn’t Walla in. Ultimately, though, Rich Costley (who previously produced for Muse, Chvrches, and Foster The People, among others) did a great job producing it– the question remains, however, if that was because Walla’s influence was still present on the record.
Still, the album goes back in time, almost. It’s different from Codes and Keys, which wasn’t great, and connects in many different ways back to the band’s earliest work, creating a warm kind of nostalgia for fans who may or may not have been looking for something different. “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” and “Hold No Guns” are so strongly reminiscent of Narrow Stairs and Transatlanticism that I can sense that Walla hasn’t fully left the group yet. Titles like “You’ve Haunted Me All Your Life” bring me back to the famous Plans (which turns 10 this year!) and Costley hasn’t failed with his production– it’s as though he really wanted the band to sound exactly like they were, to keep the Death Cab sound throughout their record, which most likely explains the shift back to earlier sounds and influences. Though the album is insecure at times, it is ultimately a successful record. The introduction of Costley as producer was a good choice, and surely, despite the initial occasional bouts of insecurity, the record still impresses and pleases, and Costley truly did right by the band, and by Walla.