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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
+ Growing - Color Wheel
+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
+ Wilderness - Vessel States

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Death Cab For Cutie

Many a word has been written about the effects a move to a major label can have on an established, respected band as it makes the jump from an independent label to the big time. (Random trivia: Googling "indie + band + sellout" returns some 106,000 results, though most of them seem to be different placements of a wire service article on the most recent CMJ convention.) In citing the likes of Nirvana, R.E.M., The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, ad nauseam, the consensus seems to be that the money leads to a newfound fussiness and/or loathsome polish in the recording studio, the marketing reduces compelling personalities to caricatures, and nearly everyone ends up with swollen egos and awful drug habits.

It's hard to imagine any of these curses landing on Death Cab for Cutie, despite their recent addition to the Atlantic Records roster. And from the evidence presented on Plans, the band is indeed steering clear of these pitfalls, though they threaten to dig themselves a hole as they continue the steady slope toward mellowness that began on their previous longplayer, Transatlanticism. But where that record ruminated on the difficulties of distance, Plans is more concerned with the limits of mortality.

Polarizing first single "Soul Meets Body" serves as an appropriate enough appetizer for the larger meal that is Plans, introducing us to a few of the album's musical leitmotifs (singer Ben Gibbard's emphasis on his voice's upper register, and the big-time reliance on keyboard bits), while throwing in a red herring or two (e.g., the wordless vocalizing and that strummed mandolin, so REMinescent of that band from Georgia's breakthrough radio hit all those years ago). (And while we're on the subject of very good songs that sound like Death Cab for Cutie paying homage, there's a strong U2 vibe to the digitally delayed guitars and steady rhythms of "Your Heart Is an Empty Room," though Bono's bombast is mercifully replaced by Gibbard's more modest vocalizing.)

Never the hardest rocking of bands, Death Cab for Cutie sound positively muted throughout Plans, Gibbard's obsession with the temporary nature of relationships and life itself receiving appropriately somber accompaniment. "Summer Skin" opens like many a Death Cab song, the singer poetically laying out a situation — warm days, hot nights — before the denouement, in which it is revealed that although two bodies have met, their hearts have not. The tragicomic "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" comes through quiet and clear, brushed drums and piano propelling a story of deeply comfortable love, acknowledging a relationship's movement away from lovers entwined to partners sharing a bed who acknowledge the need for separate space, practicality and reality intruding on the romance as time goes by.

The album's centerpiece, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," finds Gibbard and his acoustic guitar all by their lonesome as he pours out his heart, prematurely eulogizing his love over some simple strumming, fearfully imagining their future yet trying to project a confident air. Oddly, it's like nothing and everything Death Cab for Cutie have ever done before. Very different is "What Sarah Said," which opens with a circular piano figure that suggests someone in this band has had some training on the instrument; a funereal-sounding organ replaces, then supplements the piano as the opening verse unfolds and tells a tale from an intensive care unit that smells "of piss and 409," Gibbard poignantly observing that "every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time." As for what Sarah actually said, I'm on the fence as to whether it's the most uplifting or morbid idea I've ever heard.

Though they were never as raucous as the Minneapolis power trio, the somber quietude of Death Cab for Cutie's major-label debut reminds me of a similar move Hüsker Dü made nearly 20 years ago with their first album for Warner Bros., Candy Apple Grey, albeit in a fan-friendlier way. But where the growing bitterness among the Hüskers fueled their creative rethink and spiritual funk, the reasons for Gibbard's many meditations on mortality are less readily apparent. How can someone so young sing words so sad?

by Steve Gozdecki

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