The Postal Service: Give Up (Sub Pop)

Bands from the ’90s that parted with the plastic, image-obsessed 8’0s turned to deliberately sloppy productions and sloppier emotions.

 

Give Up could be accurately described as a tender, long-distance relationship between indie rock music and indie electronic music. Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello shuttled tapes between Seattle and L.A. through the mail (hence the band’s name), attempting to complement each other’s sound. For the most part, each brings his strengths on board, with Gibbard floating plucked guitar and painfully shy vocals over Tamborello’s IDM foundations. Death Cab fans may have to pardon Gibbard for some of his lyrical lapses, especially on “Such Great Heights” and “Sleeping In” (perhaps he’s saving some of his A-material for his own band), but overall, this is a solid album.

On the opening track, “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” Tamborello slowly builds shiny beats, clicks, whirrs, and sampled strings upon an initial electric organ without overwhelming Gibbard’s voice. Despite slightly corny lyrics, “Such Great Heights” is a wonderful song; think OMD by way of Aphex Twin. “Nothing Better” is a call-and-response style duet with Jen Wood that evokes the Human League, but more sincere and less robotic. Flanged synth pads and slowly rising and falling strings carry us through “Recycled Air,” observing a meaningless but enjoyable chorus of “Bah bah bah bah” like clouds passing overhead. “Clark Gable” is an emotional dance number that would make the Pet Shop Boys proud. Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis duets on “Brand New Colony,” which bounces cute verses over Atari-style bleeps, ultimately giving way to sharply glittering synth lines and guitar feedback.

Perhaps one of the reasons the new New Wave movement seems to sound better than the original (even to ardent ’80s-philes such as myself) may be that it benefits from better technology—so that even when the keyboards sound cheesy, they don’t sound really cheesy. Bands from the ’90s that parted with the plastic, image-obsessed 8’0s turned to deliberately sloppy productions and sloppier emotions. As the Postal Service, Gibbard and Tamborello have forged a stable union not only between the ’80s and the ’90s, but also between their unique musical styles.

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