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Give Up by The Postal Service (Review)

This is an electro-pop record that doesn’t properly belong to any movement or time period.

All you really need to know about this record: Ben Gibbard. Gibbard is the voice and primary writer for the stunning indie rock outfit Death Cab For Cutie. In this writer’s opinion, the man is a flat out pop music genius. His writing is gut-wrenching, his delivery smooth, he’s got a keen ear for melody, and if he’s ever made a serious misstep during his years as a performer, he’s been smart enough to keep it out of the public eye.

Gibbard’s presence is an assurance of quality every time, and I’m willing to bet that a good 90% of those who check out this record will do so purely on the basis that Gibbard makes up 50% of The Postal Service. And those people will be far from disappointed as every one of Gibbard’s assets are on full display here. Melodies are simple yet incredibly hooky and Gibbard’s voice fills his lyrics of love and loss with an incredible amount of pathos. On that basis alone, this is one damn good record.

But let’s be fair, Gibbard is only one half of the equation, with the other half being Jimmy Tamborello of the electronic act Dntel. The duo first hooked up on what was to be a one off collaboration on the most recent Dntel album. That one track came off so well that it was followed by a flurry of cassettes flying back and forth across the country (hence the band name). Tamborello crafted beats and textures to suit Gibbard’s talents while Gibbard wrote lyrics to suit Tamborello’s. Tamborello is certainly no slouch at what he does, either, and the final result is an album that finds the two indulging a shared fixation with 80s synth-pop.

There are traces of A-ha here, maybe some Erasure, and some of the Cure’s lighter moments. The many influences all mix into an oddly timeless whole. This is an electro-pop record that doesn’t properly belong to any movement or time period. The ​‘80s influence is balanced by Tamborello’s involvement in the current electro scene. But his electronic sterility is no match for the warmth of Gibbard’s voice and writing; the weaknesses of any one influence are cancelled out by the strengths of the others. As a result, you’ve got a record that will likely stand up over time far better than most.

However, Give Up stops just short of ​“classic” status. There are just a few too many ​“good” songs and not quite enough ​“brilliant” ones. But the high points — the opening one-two punch of ​“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and ​“Such Great Heights” — are absolutely transcendent.

Written by Chris Brown.

Read more about Give Up, Sub Pop Records, and The Postal Service.

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