Foxy Brown

Death Cab's steady climb

Had Death Cab for Cutie simply built on the blueprint of Plans, its 2005 mainstream breakthrough, the move would have made sense. After all, the alt-rock band had spent almost a decade toiling in the margins of pop and rock. Then the quartet received mass exposure in 2003 on the teen soap opera The O.C. and signed with Atlantic Records soon afterward. Plans went platinum, and the band garnered a Grammy nomination.

But Death Cab for Cutie doesn't seem changed by the warm embrace it has received from mainstream pop. On its new album -- Narrow Stairs, in stores today -- the band still sounds like an independent unit: restless and explorative. Where the previous album was ultra-bright...