Tag Archives: Narrow Stairs

Death Cab for Cutie: Kintsugi

30 Dec

kintsugiWith KintsugiDeath Cab For Cutie continue down the electronically-embellished path they raced down with Codes and Keys (2011), although the twee and platitudinous attempt at making happy music the band presented with their previous release is gone, replaced with a reflective ennui and resignation that forms an accessible emotional progression from the angst and aching sadness of earlier albums.

The songs on Kintsugi are more instrumentally stripped-down and vocally raw and soulful, many of their melodies abandoning Death Cab for Cutie’s characteristic mechanical structure for more indulgent and open-ended tunes: hear “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life”; “Hold No Guns”; “Binary Sea”.

The electronica used on this album, compared with that of Codes and Keys, is also much pleasanter to listen to: less clicky noise and more minimalistic intensification of the music’s emotional objectives: hear the static backing underlining the bridge in “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”.

Another pleasing change is the stirring driving bass beat flowing under much of the music, which lends a freshly folky sound to much of it: hear “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)”, itself a creative use of upbeat disco backing to float such a coolly grim message.

While Kintsugi doesn’t treat us to the Gold Standard Death Cab for Cutie that emerged in Transatlanticism (2003) and reappeared in Narrow Stairs (2008), hardened fans may well find new all-time favorite tracks in this collection.

“Black Sun” is a masterpiece strongly reminiscent of “Grapevine Fires” (Narrow Stairs),

and “Binary Sea” offers a poignant homage to the digital age, as opposed to patronisingly denouncing its many miracles, as too many lyrics and Facebook posts do today:

Oh come, my love, and swim with me
out in this vast Binary Sea
Zeros and ones, patterns appear
They’ll prove to all that we were here
For if there is no document,
we cannot build our monument
So look into the lens and
I’ll make sure this moment never dies

Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys

28 Dec

It’s a beautiful experience listening through the Death Cab for Cutie discography and hearing the band develop and refine its sound more and more with each album.

As the band has progressed, it’s sounded less and less like listening to music underwater (Lead singer Ben Gibbard‘s vocals seeming distant and gurgled, and the vague crash of guitars mimicking the rushing ocean waves). Death Cab’s guitar riffs and instrumental pieces are becoming more coherent and distinctive, and Gibbard has learnt how best to render his soft and hazy (however characteristic) voice.

Whist Death Cab was already beginning to (holistically) achieve this crisper and more directed sound as early as Transatlanticism (2003), their more recent work (Narrow Stairs [2008] and particularly Codes and Keys) is more dynamic in terms of its instrumental layering, and seperate instrumental pieces are more distinguishable from one another.

Codes and Keys is another forward step for Death Cab for its tentative departure from Death Cab’s uniform lachrymose chord progressions and melodic style.

The “happier” overall sound of Codes and Keys, particularly in comparison with Narrow Stairs – which Gibbard deemed the band’s “most depressing album”* to date – aside from reflecting Gibbard’s newfound happiness in marrying indie musician and actress Zooey Deschanel, is allegedly due to Gibbard’s giving up alcohol and replacing this destructive habit with marathon running*. Gibbard told Spin magazine in May that he felt he had been in a more balanced emotional state when writing for Codes and Keys* – a claim verified by the album itself: “You are a Tourist” is an optimistic, heartening song with comforting, encouraging lyrics and a catchy, major-key lead guitar part, and “Stay Young, Go Dancing” is a more truly joyful and shockingly gall-free song than I ever thought I’d hear from Death Cab for Cutie (mind you, who wouldn’t have an albatross-sized grin on their face all the time if they were married to Zooey Deschanel?).

Codes and Keys is another rung in the continuous musical development of Death Cab for Cutie – who, now, it seems, do happy music as well.

~

P.S. Listen to Death Cab’s “Home is a Fire”, and then listen to Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”… and then raise your eyebrows, and thank me the next time you’re out of your musical depth and need a conversation starter.