Death Cab for Cutie

Plans (Atlantic)

On its major-label debut, Plans, Death Cab for Cutie captures flashbulb moments of melancholy -- the dissolution of a summer romance, growing apart from a lover, being dumped by an egotistical jerk -- with wrenching honesty. A solitary piano chord floats through the tear-inducing "What Sarah Said" as lyrics reveal a sterile hospital where "each descending peak of the LCD took you a little farther away from me." The song reaches its tragic denouement when vocalist/lyricist Ben Gibbard wonders, "Who's gonna watch you die?" Elsewhere, 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. Plans is simply a richer, more ambitious version of the quartet's 2003 breakthrough disc, Transatlanticism. And though it's hard to top that masterpiece, the beautiful resignation of Plans is every bit as lovely as it is painful.

 
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