Death Cab for Cutie’s “Kintsugi” and Why I’m a Terrible Music Reviewer

I’m a big fan of Death Cab. I’ve got all their albums, yadda yadda, and several of them are among my favorites of all time (Plans is masterful). So you’d think I’d have been impatiently awaiting the March 31st release of their new album.

Except… I didn’t buy it until last week.

Why? I’m a terrible music reviewer, and not paying attention to new releases isn’t even top 5 why.

“I’m not sure what I think of this,” is a thought I had, almost immediately before I realized I had listened to Kintsugi 5 times back to back. Not sure I’ve done that with any album.

What can I say about it? It’s a solid Death Cab album. It has the layers and hooks you’d expect. There wasn’t one song I could point to and say Favorite like I could with other albums, but as a cohesive whole, it flows well and there was only one or two songs (out of 11) I’d click past.

Is it great? Is it as epic as Transatlanticism or Plans? No. Do I love it? Yes, and that’s the problem.

How can I be objective with a new album from one of my favorite bands? Or at least, one that’s good-but-probably-not-great. Maybe this was part of the issue with reviewing Shadows in the Night. I can’t give Bob a bad review.

And really, how can one hope to be objective with any music (or any art, but let’s keep focused).

Did I enjoy it? Yes. I’m glad it’s on my iPod and I look forward to many years enjoying these songs. Will you enjoy it? How would I know? Many of you reading this (if you even made it this far), probably hate Death Cab for Cutie. So I can say pretty confidently, yep, you’ll hate this album too.

It’s such a personal thing. One of my Top 5 favorite albums of all time is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut. A band that never got much commercial success, and an album AllMusic gave 3.5/5 stars. Neither of those things make me wrong, so who’s right? Is there a right?

If you like something I don’t, why does that matter? I’ve been doing this a while, and one of the things that continues to shock me is how angry people get when I don’t like something they do (or vice versa). Just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t make me wrong.

I’m going to repeat that.

Just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t make me wrong. It doesn’t make you wrong either (well…).

I am, of course, limiting this to subjective things, like all reviewing, anything music or art, etc. There is a right or wrong with things that can be objectively measured, so I’m not including stuff like “what projector is the most accurate,” “how much power does this amp produce,” or “anthropogenic climate change.”

That’s the nature of all reviewing, it’s inherently subjective. We, as reviewers, try to be as objective as possible. For most things, I’m pretty good at that (I think), but when it comes to music and movies (and to a lesser extent, games), I’m terrible.

But I’m glad I’m terrible at this part of my job. I like how I review these things. If you’re bored, take a look at every album or movie I’ve reviewed on this site. Every single one can be condensed down to this: “This is a thing. I liked/didn’t like it. You might like it/too.”

So, Kintsugi is a thing. I liked it. You might like it too.

utopianemo's picture

The single most amazing thing about this review(other than the fact that it isn't really a review at all) is that you not only realize that reviews are subjective, but you emphasize it. It might have been nice had you stated what elements you felt made it good but not great, but it's nice to get a reprieve from the tired perspective of a typical critic, who not only views themselves as the gods' gift to reviews, but takes that view to mean their perspectives are an ontological reality. Again, an actual review would be nice, but I appreciate the honesty.

MatthewWeflen's picture

I think there is probably a way to make reviews skew more informational than evaluative - giving the reader the tools to identify whether they might like a thing or not, by comparing it to other things (e.g. previous albums). I also like reviews that point out little things to watch out for that you might otherwise miss, though of course that's a delicate balance to strike, since you wouldn't want to remove the joys of discovery from someone else.