No matter what song you’re looking for on a file-sharing network, “Video Killed The Radio Star” shows up in your search results and, hilariously, no one has any idea who performed it.
I’ve seen guesses ranging from Duran Duran (warm) to Depeche Mode (getting colder) to The Clash (freezing).
It’s certainly not The Postal Service, because they’re a new band, although their singer sounds an awful lot like the singer for The Buggles, the band credited for the aptly-named first video ever played on MTV.
Despite the singer’s uncanny similarity to an ’80s novelty band’s and the synthesizer foundation, The Postal Service is not on a new wave nostalgia trip.
The duo consists of Ben Gibbard, singer for earnest indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie, and techno artist Jimmy Tamborello, who releases records as Dntel.
Gibbard provided vocals for Dntel’s amazing 2001 single, “(This Is) The Dream Of Evan and Chan,” and the pair collaborated on Give Up by exchanging tapes through the mail. (Get it? The Postal Service?)
While none of the songs on Give Up match the brilliance of their first collaboration, there are certainly great moments to be found throughout this full-length release (especially the moment when the glitchy beat that underpins album opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” suddenly picks up and starts propelling itself forward).
Gibbard’s lyrics and vocals are just as earnest and sincere as those he provides for his full-time gig but, for me, they work a lot better with dense, almost danceable beats swirling around them than with dull, 10-years-out-of-date guitar drones dragging along behind them.
It’s not that his lyrics are bad – in fact, they’re quite descriptive and often clever – but sometimes they’re so romantic and hopeful that they’re almost embarassing.
So it helps to have such detailed production to distract the listener into hearing only the melodies, which will stick in your head after the first listen.
For example, on “Sleeping In,” which opens with an awkward reference to the “mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy,” Tamborello keeps the listener distracted with a shuddering beat and plonky keyboard melody while Gibbard describes his dream of a world in which “people thought they were just being rewarded/For treating others as they’d like to be treated/For obeying stop signs and curing diseases.”
It’s totally corny, but the combination works.
The album’s best song is “Such Great Heights,” which begins with a twitchy, headphone-worthy beeping pattern, and then the bassline fades in and the beat begins just ahead of Gibbard’s vocals, and the whole effort just comes together so transcendantly that it sounds almost effortless.
In a perfect world, this insanely catchy song should have been on the radio all summer, but it’s not a perfect world, so you’ll just have to buy the album and find out what you were missing.