DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE We knew there was a reason we liked them. Autumn De Wilde

WHAT A YEAR Death Cab's had! They've played hard, toured hard, and handled their fame with grace and dignity. (Not to mention the Grammy nomination they just grabbed for Best Alternative Album.) The one thing that doesn't sit well with me is their press. Over the course of the last 16 billion magazine articles I've read on these guys—about their ascent to the big time, about celebrity encounters, about TV shows, and piles of money—nobody's said shit about the album.

Not once did anyone even hint that the new album, the Atlantic Records released Plans, would open with a regal swell of church organ, then kick into one of the most immediate, energetic songs the band's ever written. Or that the lead single, "Soul Meets Body," would come power packed with Mack-Truck stacks of guitar that channel "Losing My Religion," Coldplay's "Yellow" (the only decent thing those comatose dipshits ever did), and—think about it next time KNRK plays it—singer Ben Gibbard's other band, the Postal Service.

Nothing, though, could telegraph the quiet riot of existential slaughter trapped inside the record's centerpiece, "I Will Follow You into the Dark." Here Gibbard is singing to his woman. He's telling her he's with her 'til the end, and that he'll be there when she dies, following her into the dark. It's weighty stuff (a theme he revisits on "Soul Meets Body" and "What Sarah Said") but it's nothing most in-love lovers haven't thought. And that's why it's so good, because—at base level—it's one of those ideas you may've thought about a thousand times but haven't yet articulated... this clearly anyway.

It's a breathy, simple song, nothing but acoustic guitar and Gibbard's James Taylor-sounding voice. But it has the propulsion of a goddamn submarine; it moves forward, strong, steady, cooking on its own energy. And it kills me. It killed me the first time I heard it, and it kills me today, knocking me off my macho pedestal and making me consider my life and love and mortality for what it really means. Plans is a growing-up record, a record where Gibbard sings that we're all gonna die and that one day we'll have to face seeing our friends and family and lovers go cold—even the ones that are our inseparable, trusty, soul partners throughout our lives.

"Your Heart Is an Empty Room" comes next. It's pristine, full of warmth, potency, guitar, and bass that you can hear right down to the very last rattle and hum of wood.

Plans' last track begins with a strum of acoustic guitar, the kind of clean, vibrant recording where you can hear the sound dying out in the space between strums. "Time for the final bout" sings Gibbard as the song builds, and as drums and bass come on. They clop along lazily, like drunken country. But this isn't country. Like everything the band's done, it's indierock, maybe the most clearly defined rendering of the genre. "Indierock"... I can't remember the last time I used that word in a positive way, but I'm doing that right now, and it feels damn good.