Death Cab for Cutie

Plans (Atlantic)

On its major-label debut, Death Cab captures flashbulb moments of melancholy -- the dissolution of a summer romance, growing apart from a lover, being dumped -- and analyzes them with astounding honesty. Take the tear-inducing "What Sarah Said": Solitary piano chords drive a vivid depiction of a sterile hospital where "each descending peak of the LCD took you a little farther away from me," causing vocalist/lyricist Ben Gibbard to wonder, "Who's gonna watch you die?" Plans is simply a richer, more ambitious version of the quartet's 2003 breakthrough disc, Transatlanticism (and its four previous indie albums, for that matter). Soft-focus keyboards mope around like grounded teenagers, dreamy riffs chime like the Smiths, occasional electronic flourishes loop lazily, and Gibbard's vocals rise like helium or whisper with conspiratorial intimacy; he's forever the sensitive-artist type every girl secretly lusted after in high school. Sure, Plans doesn't -- and can't -- top Transatlanticism, but the painfully awkward beauty of the album's sadness is just as lovely.

 
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