Kintsugi: Death Cab’s latest album a heartfelt tribute to departing guitarist, Chris Walla

Kintsugi: the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a mixture of powdered gold, silver, or even platinum filled resin, and also the eighth studio album of indie rock band, Death Cab for Cutie. “Broken” would be an appropriate term to describe the fan base at this moment in time, with founding band member and star guitarist, Chris Walla, announcing that he would be departing the band after the album’s production.
Originating from Bellingham, Washington, Death Cab for Cutie was originally a solo project of lead singer Ben Gibbard, who first released the demo album, “You can play these songs with chords” which received sufficient positive feedback for him to expand the project into a complete band. Since then, the band has been releasing great albums such as “Plans” in 2005, which received platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and has been continuing to do so until today.

The quartet has become a trio with the departure of guitarist Chris Walla. (From left: Nick Harmer, Ben Gibbard and Jason McGerr).

As for the latest album release, Kintsugi, it seems to provide a vibe and style similar to “Plans” (2005). The lyrical genius of the band is still uncontested, and just hearing the pure, earnest lyrics coming from the unique voice of Ben Gibbard gives me chills everywhere with songs like ” Black Sun” conveying Gibbard’s anger and desolation after his divorce with Zooey Deschanel in November 2011. Yes, we are 4 years too late. But considering that their previous album was in mid 2011, we can’t blame his apparently late response to his broken marriage. “You have haunted me all my life” brings a more somber message on the struggle with a one-sided love. “I still see through the eyes of a child, not even thinking we could tame the wild,” shows the yearning for what could have been. The lyrics of “Everything’s a Ceiling” brings out the depression and sadness that Gibbard was also facing at that time. Words like “I feel the shards of the midday sun, and then it’s black as midnight,” call to mind the constant hurt that he must have been enduring after the breakup and honestly, this and similar imagery that Gibbard uses, along with the synchronization of the bass and the drums, enhances the beauty of the songs in this album.

Ben Gibbard showcases his unique vocals during a performance of “Black Sun” on the Letterman show.

But depressing lyrics aside, this album also has its fair share of upbeat music. Though slightly draggy, the groovy riffs that Chris Walla plays at the start of “Good help (is so hard to find )” will make us miss him even more. The shimmering solos of Walla and the layering of its music are what give this band its unique trademark. Walla’s place is so pivotal to the band that I believe “No room in frame” is dedicated to him to show how he would be missed now that he has left.
Death Cab for Cutie has clearly carved out a unique niche for itself in the kind of music it wants to play. It may have taken years of trying out different genres for their albums in previous years, such as “Code and Keys” and ” Narrow Stairs”, which drew mixed reviews from critics, but the songs in “Kintsugi” sound like the band has finally settled down and matured. These evocative songs are empowering to their audience, and simultaneously give the broken-hearted a chance to mend themselves. Like its sticky Japanese namesake, Kintsugi indeed mends.

Goodbye, Chris Walla, you will be missed.

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