2003 was ten years ago now. The Postal Service released their first and only studio album ‘Give Up’ ten years ago this year and their reissuing the seminal record as part of the group’s return to the limelight (coupled with a fairly extensive North American tour this summer – don’t even try to get tickets in the UK, long sold out) reminded me of two haunting facts: 1. I am old. 2. The Postal Service sounds as fresh and as groundbreaking today as they did in 2003. In an age in which music dates faster than you can say 3OH!3, there is something to be said for staying power. When a band like The Postal Service – one half Death Cab For Cutie, one half electronic producer Jimmy Tamborello, with a sprinkling of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis on supporting vocals – doesn’t release anything over the span of an entire decade, then re-releases old material to gushing praise and finally, sells out a Barclays Centre and two 02 Academy Brixtons in the space of a couple of weeks, you know there is something special about them. Special might have the wrong sort of connotations for The Postal Service. Perhaps revolutionary is a better label.
The last time I wrote on The Postal Service and their compelling ‘Brand New Colony‘ (much to do with Lewis’ beautiful harmonising), we were relaunching our old format and revamping with the spunky brilliance you see today. Fittingly, I think, I used ‘Brand New Colony’ as a way to usher in a new era for the humble blog. Catching up with The Postal Service over the weekend reiterated this visionary quality. Vocalist Ben Gibbards (of Death Cab) could put his voice to almost anything and make it sound heartfelt and emotional. It’s Tamborello’s work behind the decks, all sparse electronic bleeps, ricocheting synths and the thinnest of drums, that set the tone of ‘Give Up’ and made it such a memorable album. Much of the move towards involving fewer sounds, a redoubled focus on minimalism in rock and electronica today, can be seen to echo the sonic sentiment on this album from a band that, eponymously, put together its most influential recordings by mailing DAT tapes through the US Postal Service. That’s not to say that the 2003 release is responsible for the ten years of production that came after it (it was only a moderate commercial success, selling a million copies worldwide to date) but rather to suggest that the musical ideas it mined are now traded more regularly on mainstream markets.
‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ is quintessential Postal Service in its themes of love and longing, its awkward electronic posture and the way it fuses the two together to such impressive effect. Under the tutelage of less experienced band members, the track might well fall apart. Unlike, say, an LCD Soundsystem song which usually has a constant beat behind it lending it backbone, there are more than a few times where already nervous percussion folds back in on itself to leave Gibbard to his own devices with only a subtle string line or atmospheric synth for company. While it is not as loud or as bold in many respects as much of today’s electronic music, The Postal Service’s work might require even more confidence than more contemporary releases because it relies so much on space and the often arbitrary sounds it uses to fill such cavities. Part of the appeal of tracks like ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ is the cocktail of ambition and vulnerability that underscores it. Apparently written for his then girlfriend who had moved to DC recently, Gibbard comes off sounding genuine rather than mawkish (a frequent concern with his Death Cab work) and is supported most ably by Tamborello on production duties. Ten years young.
The Postal Service – The District Sleeps Alone Tonight