By: Japanese Correspondent – Patrick Doherty
Now that the synthesis of indie rock and electronic music has become the de facto means of expression for every burgeoning hipster with a penchant for 80's synth-pop and a perfunctory knowledge of the K Records catalogue, it only makes sense that a band like The Postal Service would bubble up to the surface with such fanfare. Directly preceding such an event was DNTEL's Life Is Full Of Possibilities, whose song, "(This is) The Dream Of Evan And Chen", made the unlikely pairing of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Figurine's Jimmy Tamborello seem like something very worthy of further pursuit. As the brainchild of Figurine, Tamborello teamed up with various guest stars for his DNTEL alter ego, in which he tried his slightly over-produced hand at forcing glitch-pop and guitars to live in harmonious coexistence. With Gibbard at his lyrical/vocal best and Tamborello at his own electronic production-based apogee, the collaboration was a seamless work of synth-pop euphoria. A full-length album only logically followed.
With a title like Give Up, one might easily be led to believe it's a depressive piece of shoegazer indulgence, especially with Gibbard on board, but such an assumption couldn't be more inaccurate. Give Up is pure, unadulterated dance pop from start to finish, albeit, with a few noticeable reductions in beats per minute, as on "Sleeping In" and "This Place Is A Prison", but those moments are few and far between. Gibbard lays insanely catchy melodies over top Tamborello's meticulous, almost fetishistic programming on "Such Great Heights" and "Clark Gable", while "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "We Will Become Silhouettes" exhibit some of Gibbard's best songwriting to date. Questionable lyrics abound, but Gibbard's sincerity is so believable that he pulls them off, eliciting relatively few squirms. Tamborello shows improved range throughout Give Up, moving from glitch to saccharine electronic melodies (a la, dare I say, The Magnetic Fields) to what can best be described as deconstructed dance music.
Give Up is not as glossy or tightly wound as Life Is Full Of Possibilities, showing that Tamborello also knows how to lighten up on the post-production, making things much more organic and palatable. The scattered duets between Gibbard and Jenny Lewis and/or Jen Wood are bright spots, despite the fact that their voices don't exactly "harmonize", as such, in the classical sense. Contrasting Gibbard's self-arrested, inherently sad voice with perky feminine charm against the backdrop of Tamborello's syncopated beats isn't exactly a bad way to go, as evidenced by the infectiousness of both "Brand New Colony" and "Nothing Better."
Unfortunately, Give Up as a whole does not match the genius of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan", and, for that reason alone, it may be doomed in the minds of those who should be its biggest fans. Gibbard's songwriting, while arresting in places (his grammar is impeccable), shows signs of atrophy on tracks like "Clark Gable", strictly because of its forced and somewhat silly lyrical theme. Tamborello gets sloppy as well in a few spots, letting monotony run roughshod over the tension at which he is normally quite adept ("We Will Become Silhouettes"). And, of course, because it's a long-distance collaboration that was originally designed to be an EP, Give Up sounds hastily thrown together at times and lacking direction in others.
But why focus on these relatively minor criticisms when the quality of the album as a whole outweighs its weaknesses? Granted, the small pockets of DNTEL fans anticipating 45 minutes of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" are probably going to be disappointed, but Give Up casts a wide enough net to compensate for such a loss. In fact, the sugary, heart-on-its-sleeve synth-pop of Give UP will likely render that song a distant memory, turning The Postal Service into a real band with a real future.