In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “On paper, The Postal Service isn’t the kind of band or music I would normally have any interest in. In practice, The Postal Service and Give Up is a 44 minute reminder of why preconceptions about a genre isn’t an effective way to judge music.”
Seven or eight years ago, after several years if being lost deep in a late discovery of and appreciation for 90s Californian punk rock, I realised that a whole movement in contemporary cool was passing me by. Sensitive, ambitious rock by bands like Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie had alt music nerds, and even sections of the mainstream, all fired up. Maybe they were the stand outs then and the highest profile survivors today. Maybe I just heard of them first. Whatever the reason, those two bands represent that entire scene for me to this day.
To my amateur eyes, these two bands are the centre of a pretty definitive sound of the new millennium. Which made it surprising to realise that Death Cab for Cutie wasn’t even front man Ben Gibbard’s only outlet at that time. This prolific bastard had the nerve to front two highly respected, influential and revered projects, the second being The Postal Service. Without knowing anything more about the band than Gibbard’s involvement, I was intrigued, and even a little excited, about listening to Give Up.
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it. I lied to you as recently as one sentence ago. I knew more about The Postal Service than Gibbard’s involvement. I also knew that it was a two piece with a more electronic bent. Not electronic in a big beats, dance floor filler, sample heavy way. But in the way that a producer (in this case Jimmy Tamborello) built musical sound scapes, instead of the more analogue, traditional instrumentation and band sound of Death Cab. And with opening pair The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and Such Great Heights, it’s clear straight away how perfectly suited Gibbard’s sensitive delivery is for the kind of ethereal, dreamy sounds electronic instruments can deliver.
Amongst all the bleeps and bloops of Tamborello’s production, songs like Sleepin In and Nothing Better show who personal and affecting Gibbard’s voice is. The backing is so clearly electronic and in a way artificial, but Gibbard (with help from Jen Wood on Nothing Better) has a real vulnerability that makes these songs so undeniably human within the robotic perfection.
With a little more drive and sound approaching something close to an actual piano and bass guitar, We Will Become Silhouettes is the most Death Cab for Cutie like song on Give Up. It sounds like it could be played by a band live on stage with guitars and drums and not sound too dissimilar. And while I appreciate the distinctly non-organic sound to rest of this record uses so well, the old school music fan in me can’t help being drawn to the more natural sound I can hear at this song’s core.
The electronic nature of The Postal Service is pushed to a vintage, 8 bit video game limit on Brand New Colony and it’s a sound that really works. The 80s production vibe, combined with Gibbard’s very post 2000 vocal delivery make for contrasting, interesting and great combo. So great, that as Give Up’s penultimate tracks, I wish it was a sound that had come earlier and more often.
On paper, The Postal Service isn’t the kind of band or music I would normally have any interest in. In practice, The Postal Service and Give Up is a 44 minute reminder of why preconceptions about a genre isn’t an effective way to judge music. You need to hear it and experience it for yourself. Because experiencing it for myself, I found something totally electronic and totally human all at once.