Music News

Postal Service

One of the weird things about the ill '80s musical revival spreading through the Western world is the symbiosis between said revival and the global political climate. Then, as now, fear grips. The nervy retro-futurist flavors of this nü New Wave seem to mirror the renewed sense of free-fallin' civil liberties. Just as the original post-punks were made paranoid by the specter of their governments' military-industrial anti-individualist largess in the guise of a defense against Communism, today's wave is as concerned with terror wars and Homeland Security.

Few, though, are interpreting the terror they feel as a love-torn pop postcard. In that regard, the Postal Service, a by-mail collaboration between Los Angeles producer Jimmy Tamborello, who makes sweet laptop techno records as DNTeL, and singer Ben Gibbard, of Northwestern indie-pop starlets Death Cab for Cutie, is unique. Their resulting breakup notes are Hershey's apocalypse-flavored Kisses.

Not all '80s memories are, of course, alike. Postal Service's elegiac, sincere synth-pop has nothing to do with the old Brooklyn/Berlin's pose-infested, quasi-ironic nostalgia clash. No dirt or sleaze under their fingernails; Postal Service songs are so melodically emo it hurts. They're as romantic as a teenage John Hughes character simultaneously discovering Wordsworth and Joy Division -- except that Tamborello and Gibbard are old enough to know better than to simply stereotype the romanticism, and are contemporary enough to make some of Give Up! a commentary on the here and now.

Consequently, "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "We Will Become Silhouettes" spring from this well, two universally earnest love songs built out of modern electronics in the Vince Clarke school of composition that graduate to deeper meaning. In "District," Gibbard intones how his lover was probably justified in abandoning his didacticism, as a funeral melody slowly becomes a bedroom house stomp. And the scene in "Silhouettes," among the year's finest twee romps, is rife with existential doom and interior bunker decorating (duct tape not included). The sweet-sour combinations demand that you smile at their hopelessness; that may be the only way to overcome what's before us.

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Piotr Orlov