by Luke Baumgarten and Joel Smith & r & Death Cab For Cutie Plans ** & r & Insipid! How can a band that has made such exciting albums and been given a major-label budget come up with something this boring? Busier than previous albums, but with less going on, twinkling keyboards try to mask the fact that Ben Gibbard is plowing the same well-tilled field. Same love letter similes. Youth, devotion and loss. Whatever.
Still, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" almost redeems the whole album single-handedly. Containing the rhyme "Catholic School / As vicious as Roman rule," it's got the verve of early Death Cab or, dare say, Postal Service's better moments. "Crooked Teeth" is very good, too.
It would be easy to blame this on Atlantic, but this isn't some sudden leveling off. Soon after The Stranger proclaimed Death Cab's Transatlanticism their album of the year (2003), they admitted that every one on the staff had stopped listening to it. Plans is even less memorable, and with quantities of good pop floating around, a forgettable CD is as bad as a terrible one. -- Luke Baumgarten
Laura Veirs Year of Meteors **** & r & Listening to this album is like floating listlessly through space. It's dark and murky and a little sci-fi weird. Nearly the entire thing -- from the hypnotic opening track to the spooky closing ode to Lake Washington -- is draped in minor keys, impregnated with noodly electronic wee-doos.
But you don't get the cold alien feeling you do with Elton John's "Rocket Man." The album never gets mired in its musical darkness. Instead it's buoyed, almost weightlessly, by a kind of quiet wonder. Veirs writes about "bears and boulders vibrating through the air," dark caverns of the heart filled with "fish without eyes, bats with their heads hanging down."
She also has an uncanny ability to turn a song inside out in an instant, gracefully veering (get it?) out of a moody minor key and into a sunny major on a voice that is almost completely free of frills and tremolo but still utterly haunting. On songs like "Magnetized" and "Spelunking," the effect is breathtaking. Like stepping out onto the surface of the moon. -- Joel Smith