The Postal Service – Give Up – Throwback 20

There’s a moment near the end of the Zach Braff film Garden State, where Braff’s character Andrew and Natalie Portman’s character Sam have a heartfelt conversation in a bathtub. Things happen and then there’s a soft acoustic song that plays through as the scene transitions to the next morning. The song is ‘Such Great Heights’ and the performer is singer/songwriter Iron and Wine.

That version of the song became synonymous with the film, and the genre of film that was linked to Garden State. It may be the spark that lit the fuse of slowed down cover songs eventually being used for emotionally wrenching holiday adverts by large department store chains at Christmas. But that’s not to say that the original song by indie supergroup The Postal Service didn’t do as well. Nor does it remove the fact that the album it came from, Give Up, was also very very good. 

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Give Up was the 2003 debut album from The Postal Service, the collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie singer Ben Gibbard and electronic musician Jimmy Tamorello.  An album of particular note as they never really met in person when creating the album, but sent CDs of demos and tracks to each other by mail. This process eventually led to The Postal Service becoming the name of the project.  

The album delivers a blend of different genres. There’s indie rock, electronica and synth-pop thrown into the mix, with Tamorello’s style of atmospheric electronic beats working well with Gibbard’s default setting of melancholy. Always settling on the level of quiet introspection rather than erupting into an unleash of energy. 

From the slow minimalist introduction of ‘The District Sleeps Tonight’, the album invites the listener to what it’s going to be about: reflections of relationships, heartbreak and the overwhelming complexities of life. An opening track that builds up, but still manages to feel calm throughout. 

This balance of remaining atmospheric echoes throughout. There’s a sense that these songs could easily translate to a fuller Death Cab band-led sound, but here the styles of Tamorella and Gibbard mesh perfectly. The “hit” that landed on many adverts for the next few following years, ‘Such Great Heights’ is the biggest example of this. From the drum machine build-up, layering as the verses launch into a chorus, and a very simple but effective guitar solo that drags you into further introspection. 

The word “introspection” that’s been thrown around a few times continues in songs like ‘Nothing Better’, but plays on the tropes that you may expect from the emo-like first verse. A song that plays on the protagonist’s reflections on a relationship gets spun when his partner starts singing the second verse and provides a bigger picture to what is happening. It’s a highlight of the album for sure. Songs like ‘Recycled Air’ and ‘This Place is a Prison’ slow things down but in contrasting ways. The former being a soft romantic song about young lovers, whilst the latter is a musing of feeling trapped in arrested development.

Contrary to what has been said so far in this article, there is one moment of complete eruption, which is on the closer ‘Natural Anthem’ in which the electronic samples are finally allowed to have the distortion effect applied to them, and layers and layers of noise wash over the album before it sounds as if a tape is being stopped prematurely. 

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Over the past twenty years, Give Up has done extraordinarily well. Selling over a million in the United States alone, reaching such great heights (pun intended) of critical appraisal. Being listed highly in lists of best albums of the 00s. Through the 2000s, the impact of Give Up led to more acts delving into the electronic indie pop sound. Owl City, Passion Pit and even elements of Tame Impala have some traits of this album. 

Twenty years later, The Postal Service are planning tours to celebrate this milestone, and it’s a milestone worth celebrating.

Give Up was released on 19th February 2003.

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