Listen Up: Death Cab Climbs Higher with 'Stairs'

Don't let the Seattle indie-rock quartet's bright, jangly guitars, boisterous drums and jaunty keyboards fool you. This set of "Narrow Stairs" (* * * 1/2 out of four) leads to a spooky chamber of love-starved characters struggling with despair, obsession and dead-end relationships.

Death Cab for Cutie has a knack for deft integrations of emotional darkness and melodic beauty, an approach repeated here without the spaciousness or hyper-meticulous craft of 2005's "Plans." "Stairs'" hazy, ramshackle nature suits its sad and curious cast, ranging from a stalker in the tension-building "I Will Possess Your Heart" to a man nonchalantly watching a girl dance in a cemetery as brush fires encroach in "Grapevine Fires."

Ben Gibbard's pure tenor and the band's confident mix of sunny instrumentation and menacing drone give these tales a haunting, vivid resonant.

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