Death Cab for Cutie, “Black Sun” from Kintsugi (2015): One Track Mind

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It’s easy to think of “Black Sun,” contemplative and then ferociously emotional, as Death Cab for Cutie’s layered farewell to Chris Walla — the deeply underrated founding member, guitarist and producer who exited last fall after some 17 years.

But Walla, though he played his last show with Death Cab for Cutie in September 2014, help complete the forthcoming Kintsugi before his departure. A furious solo, this eruptive, almost psychedelic outburst about two thirds of the way through “Black Sun,” makes clear his presence. At the same time, though, the texture of the track — so still, other than that — underscores his absence, hinting at the sweeping changes that still must be coming as the group experiments with just its second producer.

Death Cab for Cutie will go on, initially for this tour with Dave Depper and Zac Rae taking over in Walla’s absence. But if “Black Sun” is any indictation, Kintsugi (due on March 31, 2015 via Atlantic) signals the beginning of something possibly very different.

Quite frankly, this sounds like a band trying to find itself again — a credit to Rich Costey, who came in to complete producing duties on Kintsugi. He clearly got out of their way, even as they attempted to find their way. And that, as Death Cab for Cutie rounds the corner on two decades together, could be a very good thing. There is always the risk of becoming self-referential into your legacy years, of not trying things because they don’t fit the profile, of sticking with things simply because they do. Well past what some see as their peak, it feels like a good time to shake things up.

And “Black Sun” does that, sounding both in keeping, and fundamentally different, than the bulk of what Death Cab for Cutie has done. The former can principally be chalked up to the presence of frontman Ben Gibbard’s reliably lonely vocal. Elsewhere, however, I hear a group trying new things again, after the sunny retrenchment of 2011’s Codes and Keys, which ultimately was more pleasant than it was lasting.

Maybe Death Cab for Cutie succeeds, maybe they fail, maybe it’s blasphemy to say. But if it took Chris Walla’s goodbye — well, and to be fair, Ben Gibbard’s wife Zooey Deschanel too, if these lyrics are to be more closely examined — then perhaps it was for the best.

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