The Postal Service
Give Up (SubPop Records, 2003)
As musical side projects go, “mail order” still seems somewhat novel although perhaps not unique. The Postal Service’s Give Up is a result of this type of collaboration. Lyrics and vocals are provided by Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard, with programming and sampling by DNTL’s Jimmy Tamborello. Although the two musicians had worked together previously on one song, they were reportedly never in the same room for this album until its final mixing, trading their tracks, vocals, samples and the like via the (you guessed it) United States Postal Service. Add in a few background vocals and various instrument tracks laid down by assorted friends and bandmates, and the result is a surprisingly tight and likable album, released on Seattle’s venerable SubPop label.
The “electronic” genre descriptor is certain to turn off some would-be listeners, but there is certainly much more to the music than the word evokes. Tamborello’s contributions range from melodic-pop to a few videogame-like effects, mellowed at points with guitars (including DCFC’s Chris Walla), keyboards, and drums. The end result is stylistically diverse, both in tempo and in mood, and well matched to the dynamic range of Benjamin’s lyrics. Tracks run from the catchy, saccharine Such Great Heights (“I’m thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned”) to the drudgingly dark This Place is a Prison (“This place is a prison and these people aren’t your friends / Inhaling thrills through $20 bills and the tumblers are drained and then flooded again and again.”) A highlight on the album comes when Jan Wood provides her voice for the Human League-esque duet of love unrequited Nothing Better. Gibbard and Wood volley back and forth: “Tell me am I right in thinking that there could be nothing better than making you my bride and slowly growing old together / I feel I must interject here… You’re getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself with these revisions and gaps in history.” While some of the songs share similar themes, there is more than enough musical variance to give listeners something to suit their taste.
Although only ten songs long, Give Up still weighs in with almost 45 minutes of captivating and honest music. Several Postal Service tracks have achieved regular radio play and rotation on MTV having (surprisingly) surpassed its members’ other indie-pop efforts and going beyond “catchy little secret” status to near full-fledged indie-spectacle. Benjamin Gibbard’s strong vocals and lyrics or Jimmy Tamborello melodic tunes could be enough on their own to recommend the album. Together they resound, making this album one to try, and not just for fans only.
Reviewed by Daniel