Death Cab for Cutie 

“Bixby Canyon Bridge” by Death Cab for Cutie, from Narrow Stairs (Barsuk Records/ Atlantic Records):

If a band can attain only a certain level of success before crossing into the dreaded "sellout" mainstream market, Death Cab for Cutie has clearly reached critical mass, judging by the blogosphere's collective shoulder-shrugging at the band's latest release, Narrow Stairs.

The only problem is, the album's actually pretty good. Lead singer Ben Gibbard's vocals and lyrics are as sharp as ever, and the four-and-a-half-minute instrumental intro to the first single, "I Will Possess Your Heart," is about as daring as major-label indie rock gets.

It makes one wonder what would've happened if Stairs had come out just a few years earlier, before Atlantic Records deals and Entertainment Weekly reviews were part of the equation.

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