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Surely I can't be alone in admitting that Death Cab for Cutie narrated my first experiences with love. Ben Gibbard's melancholy tendencies and plaintive lyrics once resonated in a way that seemed profound and simultaneously nonthreatening. 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark' (from 2005's Plans) was a height to aspire to: a chronicle of unending love told through accessible, anecdotal verses. Be still my heart--Gibbard had actually managed to capture all of my feelings for the boy who sat across from me in biology. That said, it would be highly unfair of me to try and paint Death Cab as twee, shallow, or one-dimensional. Transatlanticism, their last LP before they left the more modest Barsuk Records for industry-behemoth Atlantic, is a nuanced indie masterwork. With their major-label move, the band settled into their niche-- writing universally pleasing pop tracks about the messiness and ambivalence that accompanies romantic relationships. Kintsugi is more of the same, a showcase of their comfort and aptitude in their chosen form.

This time around, the band deals exclusively in loss, personally and lyrically. Guitarist and founding member Chris Walla left the band in September 2014, though much of his work on the new record had already been completed prior to his departure. Gibbard also famously split from his wife, actress Zooey Deschanel, in 2012, and his subsequent heartbreak can be heard all over Kintsugi. He's never been one to keep his emotional life out of his music--this sincerity is part of Death Cab's continued appeal--and with the album opener 'No Room in Frame' Gibbard addresses his former partner directly. "Was I in your way/when the cameras turned to face you?" he asks in the chorus, adding that there is ultimately "no room in frame/for two." The presence of wistfully applied harmonics and melody in excess ensure that the record is quintessential Death Cab from the get-go.

'Black Sun' delves deeper into Gibbard's despair. In one verse, he reveals, "there is the role of a lifetime" (presumably awaiting his partner) and immediately juxtaposes this with the image of "a dumpster in the driveway/of all the plans that came undone." An alluring-but-malicious siren seems to have charmed our gentle protagonist, only to leave him for greener pastures. He is left wondering: "how could something/so fair/be so cruel?"

The dissolution of a relationship plays out non-sequentially on Kintsugi. 'Little Wanderer' laments long-distance love in the moments before it all falls apart. 'You've Haunted Me All My Life' is an appropriately downcast acoustic guitar meditation on an elusive lover--Gibbard herein deems her "a mistress I can't make a wife." Evasion and abandonment are omnipresent; listeners are given insight into the mind of a man who has been left stranded by a woman seeking to further herself, and it's clear that we're meant to feel for him (regardless of what this implies about feminine agency). Maybe Death Cab have always been a little thematically self-indulgent, but Gibbard's s extended metaphors and slightly lofty lyrics managed to render much of their early work redeeming and self-aware. However, Kintsugi relies heavily on transparent, repetitive phrasing to get its point across. 'Hold No Guns' sports a stark (read: possibly facile) refrain: "my love why do you run/my hands hold no guns." The song is another acoustic ballad, heart-rending, yes, but without any of the vital energy embodied in their earlier work. Both 'El Dorado' and 'Ingénue' take a turn for the upbeat, albeit bittersweet; they're still preoccupied with loss and grieving, though Gibbard seems to be making his way, reluctantly, toward acceptance.

Kintsugi is a Japanese style of ceramic art that involves reassembling shattered pottery using a gold-infused adhesive--this is, of course, an overarching metaphor for Death Cab as they stand today: broken, but united. In a January interview with Rolling Stone, bassist Nick Harmer reflected on the record's title. "In the West, if you break an heirloom, you either throw it away or you make the repair as invisible as possible," he said. "But there's this artistic movement in Japan where the repair of it, the damage of it, is more important as part of the history of something than repairing it to its original state." With Kintsugi, the cracks in the Death Cab veneer are undoubtedly visible, shiny or not. While many of the tracks fall flat, the vestiges of their prior form--confession and melody and, ultimately, charm--will likely still be evident enough to keep fans enamored. 

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