About a year-and-a-half ago, a few adventurous indie kids curious about electronic music happened to spot a little record by DNTEL called Life Is Full of Possibilities. And those kids heard history in the making. The first eight songs were pretty, downtempo soundscapes, with occasional vocals by the likes of Mia Doi Todd and that dog’s Rachel Haden. But track nine was the real thrill Ñ a collaboration with Death Cab For Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard titled “The Dream of Evan and Chan.”
This song was an epic. It went beyond the possibilities of ambient electronica and pop into a realm all of its own. Gibbard’s earnest vocals glided over a distorted, yet soothing melody by DNTEL, a.k.a. Jimmy Tamborello. It was a truly inspired moment, not to be forgotten by those few that actually heard it. But still, it was pretty much limited to only those few, even as long as a year later.
Fast-forward to 2003, and Gibbard and Tamborello are back with an entire album’s worth of material under the name The Postal Service. Their debut album, Give Up, harkens back to the time of the duo’s first project together, yet moves much further beyond, into more accessible, more compelling territory.
Unlike Life Is Full of Possibilities, Give Up is an album consisting almost entirely of songs with some real hit single potential. The first actual single, “Such Great Heights” is an aerobic-step new wave number that should get some rigid indie rockers out on the floor shaking their scrawny pasty-white thangs. “Nothing Better” is a mid-tempo tune chock full of glitchy synth bleeps and boinks and a vocal duet between Gibbard and Seattle singer-songwriter Jen Wood.
“Natural Anthem” opens with some clever cinematic sampling before rushing into an intense pseudo-political rally that could only be properly accompanied with a Citizen Kane-style video. As of right now, that doesn’t appear to exist, but I’ll be waiting in the meantime. And “Brand New Colony” makes excellent use of cheesy video-game-sounding samples.
Some have been comparing The Postal Service to The Pet Shop Boys, which, quite frankly, isn’t fair. Just because the band consists of two guys and some synths, doesn’t necessarily make them The Pet Shop Boys. And of that same token, it doesn’t make them Suicide either. But everybody’s got to have a reference point, right? Well, I’d sooner say New Order or the Human League, but maybe I’m just being nitpicky.
Regardless, Give Up holds its own as more than just a side project to hold us over until the next DNTEL or Death Cab album. Even though, it is quite possible, that that was the intention of Gibbard and Tamborello. Either way, we win.
Bjork – Debut
DNTEL – Life Is Full of Possibilities
Human League – Dare
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.