Beware: The Postal Service are making it okay to talk openly of love.
Give Up is an album based around desire. Lyrically, Benjamin Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) uses his typically unique, wordy delivery to paint pictures of someone special. The songs all at the least make mention of this mystery girl—some even go as far as to mention that “I’m thinking it’s a sign / That the freckles in our eyes / Are mirror images / And when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned” (“Such Great Heights“). In any other context, the words might seem a bit nauseating, but that’s where the music (supplied by Jimmy Tamborello) makes the difference. Tamborello’s beats are twee enough for I Am the World Trade Center comparisons but complex and dense enough to warrant mention with Prefuse 73. Here, he finds a lovely niche declaring his love of eighties synth pop and new wave; and Gibbard himself responds by doubling the beats with either bouncy harmonies or ambient crooning.
One of the central conflicts of Give Up is the harsh contrast between the distinctly warm and human timbre of Gibbard’s voice and the sterile, overwhelmingly computerized touch in Tamborello’s beats. It’s hard to tell at times whether the album sounds wholly millennial or like my favorite A-Ha material. Either way, the music benefits from that conflict and arises, mood centralized enough for mindless fun and at the same time enough intellectually to warrant coming back to.
Unfortunately, the album does lose steam as it wears on—nothing past the highlight “Nothing Better” manages to come close to the mountain-moving quality of the first four songs—even “Sleeping In” manages to save its awful verses with a chorus catchy enough to stick with you for days. But even at its worst Give Up is a brave attempt at the landmark album IDM is still looking for and that the Postal Service may just deliver in the future (no pun intended). When you reach unadulterated bliss like Gibbard and Tamborello have on “The District Sleeps Alone”, “Such Great Heights” and “Nothing Better”, even the quality of the great work that follows seems lesser.
I can’t understand the critics that bash this record (and others) because they wear their hearts out too much. Love is central to human life, and therefore becomes central to art—resisting it because it isn’t profound enough is to shut out one of the most important reasons to live at all. This album isn’t hindered by its passion, it benefits from it. It isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s the type of album you can get behind—you feel it; over time you wind up growing attached to it, the cute and cuddly Nintendo blips and the interplay between Gibbard and his occasional counterpart Jen Wood. When Gibbard sings “Will someone please call a surgeon who can crack my ribs / And repair this broken heart you’re deserting/For better company?” (“Nothing Better”) and Tamborello eases into a sexy breakbeat, I myself feel my heart breaking.
This album is your blanket, your favorite sweater, your shoulder to cry on and your favorite shower singalong. This album is all of the things and all of the feelings you’re ashamed to tell your friends about for fear of negative reactions. But this album, if given the chance, can also be your guide to being happy, to liberating yourself and realizing that it’s okay to love and be loved and to make it known that you have a heart and yes you do feel. If you’re willing to make that change, you won’t be alone—The Postal Service have already converted masses just like you.