The Postal Service ‘Give Up (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)’ (Sub Pop)

The classic indie-tronic sleeper gets an anniversary reissue

You have to admire any band that calls their debut album ‘Give Up’. While it’s an abundant truth that most bands really should, the odd and wonderful thing about LA’s melancholica duo The Postal Service is they were never really meant to exist in the first place. 

Ten years ago, electronic producer Jimmy Tamborello was beavering away with his Dntel and Figurine aliases, while Ben Gibbard was as busy as he’d ever be with his band, Death Cab For Cutie. Between 2001 and 2002, the pair made an album full of beats and loops and virtual strings and keys and songs full of longing and regret, and they did it all just for fun, figuring they might sell a few thousand copies to fans of their other projects. But what actually happened was much more remarkable. 

The epitome of a slow burn, word-of-mouth success, ‘Give Up’ debuted on the Billboard electronic chart at 11 in March 2003. No less than 64 weeks later, it had climbed to Number One, having sold in excess of 300,000 copies. Two years on, it had sold double that number and, from nowhere, The Postal Service had become Sub Pop’s biggest sellers since Nirvana. In a move that was highly unusual at the time, Sub Pop put the track ‘Such Great Heights’ up on their website as a free download and 700,000 people took them up on the offer. 

What Tamborello and Gibbard had done was what every band would love to do. They’d made a record with no preconceptions whatsoever (indeed, many of Gibbard’s ideas were ones his day job band had rejected) and watched, amazed, as the ripples their record created fanned out far from their southern California base. In a world so wrapped up in the Strokes and White Stripes fuelled “rebirth” of guitar music that some otherwise sane people actually thought they might get away with rank crapola like Hot Hot Heat, Tamborello and Gibbard’s album had a lightness of touch and a deeply personal feel. 

In a time before streaming – and when iTunes was only a few months old – ‘Give Up’ was one of the last great mixtape hits, an album to be traded and shared and devoured in a largely physical way. Thus “indie-tronica” was born and a generation of emo and rock kids discovered that, despite what they might have previously thought, they actually quite liked this computer music. Is that Skrillex and a continental land mass finally giving itself to EDM coming down the pipe? Yes. Yes it is.

But what about the songs? Well, 10 years on, they have lost their ability to shock quite as much as they did, our ears are far more attuned to hearing spare, at times quite abstract electronic pieces pitched up against revelatory, emotional lyrics. But what ‘Give Up’ retains is its sense of wholeness. While a track like ‘Such Great Heights’ (and also included here is the utterly brilliant cover by Sam “Iron & Wine” Beam) could be – and often was – yanked off to be featured in smart TV series and commercials, it still sits perfectly comfortably in its original home. 

A decade on, ‘Give Up’ is still a warm, noble-spirited record, one that shows what a divine pairing a beating human heart and a titanium laptop full of synthesised wave patterns really is.

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