The Postal Service – Give Up

For much of the indie rock underground, The Postal Service is a Big Deal. And for good reason: the last time Jimmy Tamborello – he of Dntel fame – and Death Cab for Cutie mouthpiece Benjamin Gibbard got together, they produced the exquisitely nostalgic glitch-pop track “(This is the Dream of) Evan and Chan.” This collaboration was easily the bet track on Dntel’s proclaimed Life is Full of Possibilities. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect one-off project: Gibbard’s melody floated effortlessly over Tamborello’s noisy electronica. So when news floated down from the Sub Pop camp that the duo was releasing a full-length, hype swelled and fans waited.
The $64,000 question, of course, is whether Tamborello and Gibbard would be able to recreate the simple genius of their first effort, and then sustain a high level of creativity for an entire album. Complicating those already daunting prospects is the fact that Gibbard and Tamborello are working solely on a business level: this is not the story of two longtime friends. Rather, Tamborello would record a track and send it to Gibbard, who would manipulate the tracks with guitar and keyboard flourishes, and recorded his parts with the help of fellow Death Cab mainstay Chris Walla.
As it turns out, the duo’s sterile collaboration provided an awfully fertile palette for them to draw from. Tamborello has always instilled his work with a warmth and pulse that so much electronic music lacks. This, coupled with Gibbard’s organic touches, lay a captivating base for Gibbard’s melodies. Gibbard’s penchant for writing his lyrics in complete, grammatically correct sentences remains intact, as does his smooth, pleasant voice.
Given Tamborello’s history of composing fuzzy, down-tempo electronica and Gibbard’s often dreary demeanor, there was at least a chance that this collaboration would yield one long, tear-soaked dirge. So it’s refreshing, then, that many of the tracks are upbeat pop songs. If anything, the duo shows their love of 80s synth-pop, sculpting flamboyant pop out of the unapologetic keyboard textures. Tracks like “Brand New Colony” and “Such Great Heights” owe a debt to New Order and The Human League more than Aphex Twin and Autechre. The outstanding melody of “Nothing Better” – a duet with Jen Wood augmented by chiming keys and a buoyant bass – manages to overcome some of Gibbard’s weakest lyrics.
The most fulfilling moments on Give Up, however, are some of the subtlest. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” opens the album with a deep rumble, and a stumbling drum click anchors the track as the instrumentation builds. “This Place is a Prison” tempers the album, and its glacial pace is accented perfectly by Gibbard’s whisper. “Natural Anthem” builds off Tamborello’s most frenetic work. Gibbard’s vocals don’t appear until the four-minute mark, crafting a simple plaintive melody over a skittish beat.
If I had to complain, I’d tell you that Gibbard’s lyrics aren’t quite up to par with his Death Cab work and that nothing on this album quite matches the naïve genius of “Evan and Chan,” though that was as inevitable as it was expected. Give Up is an outstanding, creative effort from two of indie rock’s most disparate voices.