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Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs
Sounds like: An iPod masterpiece

Short take: Gibbard's a genius

Northwest bellwether rock act Death Cab for Cutie has officially added the masterpiece album to its already potent canon. Whereas prior efforts lacked cohesiveness, Narrow Stairs combines compelling songwriting ("I Will Possess Your Heart"), beguiling melodies ("Cath") and charming lyrics ("You Can Do Better Than Me"). Placing the eight-minute long and deliciously mesmeric "I Will Possess Your Heart" as the second track on the album was a particularly ballsy move even though it takes more than four minutes for the vocals to arrive ("How I wish you could see the potential / the potential for you and me"), the build-up is pure genius. Whereas the indie rock scene has plenty of tuneful purveyors, singer-visionary Ben Gibbard has taken Death Cab for Cutie into a different stratosphere here. John Benson
To download: Death Cab for Cutie

Boris Smile
Southern Lord
Sounds like: One million volts of Blue Cheer in Japanese

Short take: Top experi-metal


Electricity is a great form of power. Applied correctly, it'll make you feel sooooo alive again. So will getting your ass stomped by a petite Japanese woman. Combine the two and voila! you'll have a pretty firm grasp of Smile, the awesome new CD by the Japanese trio Boris. "Statement" will be the muscle-car anthem of this summer; check out their YouTube video if you scoff. Much more aggro than Sunn O))) or Earth, Boris can dirge with the best of 'em, but is a force to be reckoned with at full throttle. "My Neighbor Satan" starts off as rice-paper-delicate pop-psych before exploding into a spattered mess of distorto-groove. Remember when the Japanese bombed Pearl Bailey? Yeah, me neither. If you're a Melvins fan, then you'll totally understand Boris. Pick this one up you'll do nothing but smile. Dennis Yudt
To download: BORIS

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid
Sounds like: Brit pop for the new millennium

Short take: Kid bends, doesn't break


Falling somewhere between the lush soundscapes of a latter-day Radiohead and the frivolous melodies of Travis is indie rock act Elbow, which for the better half of the past decade has remained steadfast in its own grandiose yet gloomy universe. This remains true with the act's latest, The Seldom Seen Kid, which should directly appeal to Brit pop fans longing for the mysterious late '90s sound. Similar to 2005's Leaders of the Free World, the new release successfully melds mood (the melancholic "Grounds for Divorce") and personality (the soulful "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver") into intriguing results. Epitomizing the band's songwriting prowess is the elegiac "Friend of Ours," a vivid exploration of its art-rock tendencies. Bending at will, Elbow adds another intriguing chapter with The Seldom Seen Kid. John Benson
To download: Elbow

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