I have been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie for over a decade now. There is something about the haunted, hollow sound they make that strikes a cord with me. There is an innate sadness to the music, even in the upbeat tunes. And Ben Gibbard’s vocals do not seem to sung insomuch as confessed, pleading for you to understand and recognize the words and their meaning. Yet also there is a recognition that it will not happen.
If there is an overarching theme to the music over the years it is the struggle to grow up. That sounds very simple, almost childish or self-indulgent. And it could be in different hands. But with this group it is much more subtle.
It is about the connections we attempt to make with each other and the failure to do so. It is the sometimes painful process of adulthood thrust upon us and the strange ways we attempt to find ourselves when it happens. It is about the small gestures we make and the way we inflate their meaning beyond reality. It is the terror of becoming something different then what we wanted. It is the hunger of longing for a thing we never will have and how we remember a past that never was but pretend was somehow holy and perfect. It is about the nuance of being human.
That is why I am a fan.
Kintsugi is the latest album from Death Cab for Cutie and it is a beautiful piece of work. All the themes are still here, the same haunted, hollow sound. But there is a maturity now. The group is older, members have left, relationships have gone, there has been loss and success. This is not a group of twenty-something kids trying to come to grips with growing up but people who are settling in to a middle-age and the realities that brings. And of course the understanding that growing up never really stops, it just changes to something a little different.
The songs here deal with loss. Not uncommon for this group but they seem more stripped down, more raw. The songs vary from straight acoustic ballads to full orchestration yet are held together by the theme of fragmented memories and hoped for futures.
The title is revealing. Kintsugi is the Japanese art or repairing broken pottery and ceramics with precious metals making it more valuable than it was before.
And that is the message of the album in a way. Broken things can be put back together and better than they once were, if one simply knows how.