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The Postal Service -- Give Up | Junkmedia.org Review
on May 20, 2003
Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard knew they were on to something good as soon as they finished collaborating on the track "(This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan." That compelling combination of Tamborello's melodic knob-twiddling and Gibbard's literate vocals and forlorn delivery was the triumph of Dntel's acclaimed 2001 release Life Is Full of Possibilities. Not long after that first collaboration, The Postal Service was born. The relative strangers began recording in December 2001, swapping tracks on CD-Rs through the mail.
Listening to the act's debut brings back the same sort of giddiness inspired in me by New Order's Low Life when I first picked it up a decade-and-a-half ago. The Postal Service expertly channels that adolescent spirit with an awkward blend of dance beats and melodic songwriting. However, the duo has updated the sound for the millennial set, pleasantly mixing Depeche Mode beats and bass lines, Pet Shop Boys melodies and Warp Records-styled twinkling tones and clicks. Orchestral samples and pseudo horns add an unusual flavor to "Clark Gable." Chunky, monophonic Casio-sounding keys tie the vocals to the beat in "Nothing Better."
Two of the album's highlights appear right at the front end of the record. The first song, "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," leads with brooding organ, before beats saunter in and steadily cruise through the first verse and chorus to a clean, ringing guitar riff. A second chorus pumps even harder and defies you to not sing along. This despite a characteristically bumming realization repeated by Gibbard: "I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving" (Christ, Benny, just stick a fork through my heart, why don't you?). Track two, "Such Great Heights," has already been released as a single. The catchy number apes Rod Stewart's "Young Turks," especially the beat and understated arrangement, albeit in an electro fashion.
The remainder of Give Up is solid, though Gibbard's lyrics are less potent by the middle of the record, and Tamborello burrows perhaps a little too deeply into some of the thinner sounds of the cold '80s era that inspires him. "Sleeping In" stumbles a bit with Gibbard's trite invocation of the JFK assassination, but the murmured chorus, "Don't wake me, I plan on sleeping in," that drapes over a quiet acoustic guitar phrase is strong enough to carry the entire song.
Perhaps the only shortcoming of Give Up is that the adherence to pop shuts out some of the more interesting electronic elements explored on Life Is Full of Possibilities. "Natural Anthem" is probably the most adventurous Postal Service tune, utilizing a relatively heavy break-beat, a looping string sample and more aggressive production, but clearly the duo's strengths are geared more toward hit-making than trailblazing. So, while the record isn't necessarily an instant classic, the unabashed embrace of simple pop sensibilities, both old and new, make it a record that is hard to stop listening to.