Death Cab for Cutie – “Kintsugi”


With so many new albums released every year, how are we, the listener, supposed to relate to each and every one? It’s just not possible. At least not at the very moment of its release. When I heard Michael Franti & Spearhead’s Yell Fire! in 2006, I couldn’t relate. Or, I wasn’t in the mood to hear it and relate to it. Music takes time. You have to listen numerous times throughout your life to connect to it. It wasn’t until about seven (7) years after Yell Fire!’s release that I began to enjoy it. I’m sure my brother, William, who provided me a copy of the album back in 2006, thought I was still not quite the master of music that I have become – or imagine that I have become, because of this.

For this reason, among others, we have segregated the genres. Pop (or Popular) is the term we use to use when referring to the mainstream. Mainstream, now, merely means those records or albums that obtain numerous radio spins and accelerate the artist into becoming household names. There is a radio station in Austin, Majic 95.5, which always played a mix of oldies and new hits. In recent times, it has added recording artists such as Taylor Swift, Macklemore, Ke$ha, and the like. Songs my mother wouldn’t like. Years ago, we could agree on this station if we were on a long drive together. Now, it would be a gamble.

Pop has identified itself as a true genre, reaching beyond the “Pop” radio stations. Now, “Pop” radio stations are merely mainstream radio. As much as I would love to say I don’t listen to the radio, I can’t. There were years that I went without the radio, but, in the past few years, I have found new stations, new songs, and new bands. This, of course, was prefaced by the 12 volt fuse blowing out in my car, rediscovering NPR, and a drive to indulge myself in the current wave of the genres.

The past year has been something of a rollercoaster. For months, I removed myself from music, from writing, from so much. I fell away from the world and found comfort in the worst possible of places. I purposely drowned myself in my work and in my free time. I found myself nearly living by, literally, the phrase, “Work hard, play hard.” That’s no way to live. I tricked myself into believing that I was something more than I was – or at least more than I was at the particular moment. I was successful at creating this pseudo-professional version of myself. So much so, that even my manager, company executives, and other upper-management types began to believe I was some sort of semi-professional. They even went as far as offering me a position to create and lead a training department at a new location in the northeast. The decision whether or not to take the position weighed on me greatly. I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about what my life would have been like had I accepted the position.

This leads me to the title of the new Death Cab for Cutie album, “Kintsugi” (金継ぎ) which has been translated from Japanese origin to mean golden joinery, or Kintsukuroi (金繕い), Japanese for golden repair. Essentially this would be the Japanese art of repairing or fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. To put it plainly, we have a fragile piece of clay pottery. It becomes damaged in its travels. Someone or something comes along to put the pieces back together with a precious powdered metal. Though the pottery is one piece, the cracks are still there. They are still visible. Some see the new creation as art, as something new – As scratches in a wood floor build character. Others see something damaged. Never to be perfect again. Tainted. Never mind the precious metals that now comprise the overall product. It was used. It was cracked. It is now damaged. It is no longer worth anything.

This is something that so many continue to feel. Vinyl records can make a comeback. Vintage clothing can make a comeback. But people, it seems, people can not make a comeback. We are all too often judged by the cracks rather than by the gold that now holds us together.

It’s not that I regret the decision to stay in Austin, TX. It’s just an interesting thought. I’ve always considered the possibility of parallel universes and the fact that every decision creates a new universe. I wonder how I fair in the other universe. Does my other consciousness consider my known universe? Does my other self wonder the opposite? Does my other self, my Pennsylvanian/Philadelphian-self wonder what it would have been like to stay in Austin? Regardless, that guy is probably cold, broke, and alone. Even in the first track, “No Room in Frame,” we are presented this puzzle: “How can I stay / In the sun / When the rain flows / All through my veins.”

Benjamin Gibbard (DCfC frontman) had moved to Las Angeles to be with Zooey Deschanel, but always felt Seattle calling him home. I use the term “home” loosely. For those who know the actual home and history of DCfC… Good for you. Congratulations, you are now a rarity.

Considering that this album has been out for about two [edit: 3 months] months now, I keep coming back to this review/journal entry. It never seems complete. As I did with Jenny LewisVoyager, I’ll try to take this track by track as I ease back into my music journalism gig as Nicole has somewhat pushed me to do (even if only as a side job). Of course, I will skip over “Black Sun.” I think we’ve all heard it enough to draw our own conclusions.

As I have previously stated in conversation, the year 2014 saw me at my best (in some ways) and at my very worst. I had so much hope for the year. In some ways that hope was destroyed early on by my reaction to certain events that continue to plague me, or so it would seem – Regardless of how much I wish it would all just go away and disappear into the crack of the pottery. In some ways that hope of 2014 was realized – I portrayed this sort of semi-professional and found someone who pushed me to be better, even when at my worst.

All I could ever ask is that this person had “known me before the accident / For with that grand collision came a grave consequence / Receptors overloaded, they burst and disconnect / ‘Til there was little feeling please work with what is left…” Or so that’s how Gibbard presents his situation in “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.”

Gibbard then channels Ra Ra Riot in his chorus, ‘I don’t know why, I don’t know why / I don’t know what I expect to find / Where all the news is second hand / And everything just goes on as planned…”

Specifically, the line, “You wanna teach but not be taught / And I wanna sell but not be bought” pulls at my heart a bit. As an educator of sorts, I truly did want to teach rather than be taught and wanted to train people to sell and sell myself rather than just be another person who could be bought. In many ways, I still feel that I have so much to teach people, yet I refuse to be bought at anything less than what I feel I am worth. I guess that means I feel I’m worth something. My time, my work, and the amount of effort I put into my career – regardless of whether or not it is appreciated. I assume that the recognition that you have some sort of worth negates any previous feeling of depression, no?

Of course, the reverse is also true, I assume. Refusing to be taught, to learn or to be “bought” by others opens us (me) up to closing ourselves off.

Later in the album, I’m reminded of my travels to the east coast, while family and Nicole were in Texas, with “Little Wanderer.” I recall waking up hours before needing to be at the office and arriving hours before anyone else. Partially to support my claim of semi-professionalism and partially because I couldn’t adjust to the time change. I recall thinking that, “the cherry blossoms were blooming / And that I was on [her] mind…” And I would “…[a]lways fall asleep when [she was] waking… [and] count the hours on my hands / Doing the math to the time zone [she’s] at / Is an unseen part of the plan…”

I recall the train ride to New York just to see her and the “…photo out [her] window of Paris / Of what you wish that I could see….” I also recall the reverse – Being the person alone, at home in the Midwest just to “be the lighthouse.”  For months, Nicole and I played this odd dance of being away from each other for work and family reasons just hoping that each other’s “…absence makes us grow fonder / I hope we always feel the same…” and “[w]hen our eyes meet past security, / We embrace in the baggage claim / When we kiss in the baggage claim.”

It’s obvious that much of this album was influenced by Gibbard and his relationship with Deschanel. Many may consider them to be the Indie King and Queen, but I refuse to accept that. If anything, Gibbard and Chris Walla (DCfC producer) share the King’s crown, opposite the true Queen, Jenny Lewis.

While I could spend hours more on this album and the history of DCfC, I won’t. If you don’t know my relation to Death Cab for Cutie by now, you most likely never will. I was around before they were Death Cab, before they were DCfC, before they were DCFC. I was around when they were, truly, Death Cab For Cutie.

Chris, we miss you. Please come back. As I told my brother, we miss the turn-of-the century albums, like “You Can Play These Songs With Chords,” the EPs, “Something About Airplanes,” “We Have the Facts,” et cetera.

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