You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Death Cab for Cutie.

  • Karl Walter, Getty Images
    Karl Walter, Getty Images

    The Gist

    When Death Cab for Cutie released their debut album in 1998, there really wasn't a name for the musically gorgeous but emotionally heavy indie-pop the band played. They started as a solo project for singer and songwriter Ben Gibbard but quickly evolved into a full band. (Keyboardist and guitarist's Chris Walla's multilayered production is a key element of the group's seven albums.) By the time their sixth record, 'Narrow Stairs,' debuted at No. 1 in 2008, Death Cab had become one of indie rock's most popular bands, filtering their occasionally despairing songs through shimmering pop melodies.

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    Critical Consensus

    Death Cab's fourth album, 2003's 'Transatlanticism,' marks the point where Gibbard's songwriting grew sharper and the band became tighter. It's a transitional album, falling somewhere between the indie adventurism of their past and the commercial aspirations of their future. The result is the group's best set of songs -- jagged but sweet.

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    Contrarian Counterargument

    'Plans,' their fifth album, and mainstream breakthrough, includes some of their best, and best-known, songs, like 'Soul Meets Body,' 'I Will Follow You Into the Dark' and 'Crooked Teeth.' You can't go wrong with this one.

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    'Narrow Stairs,' from 2008, is their only No. 1 album, and for good reason: The intricate production takes the music to a whole other level. Plus, there's some optimism buried beneath the usual hopelessness.

  • Theo Wargo, Getty Images
    Theo Wargo, Getty Images

    Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

    What's up, Mr. Deschanel?