Give Up started with a dream. Specifically, it started with “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan”, the original collaboration between The Postal Service’s two members, producer Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard that had highlighted Tamborello’s 2001 record, Life Is Full of Possibilities, under the Dntel moniker. A crackling tide of ebbing and flowing static wash, featuring one of Gibbard’s smoothest vocal performances and most poignant lyrical themes, “Dream” immediately sparked something — both for Gibbard and Tamborello and for everyone who listened.
Give Up diverged in execution from both “Dream” and the public’s perception of what it was going to be. Specifically because of Tamborello’s prior releases as Dntel, it was assumed that Give Up would be more experimental and less immediate; more cerebral and less tuneful. That perception meant that even people who weren’t a fan of Death Cab For Cutie would pay attention, even though it was Gibbard’s influences that would ultimately play the larger role in the project, and it obviously meant that Death Cab’s pre-existing fan base would be paying attention.
In the intervening years, it’s been forgotten that the initial reception to Give Up didn’t even approach universal acclaim, specifically because of the expectations that it had to contend with. Those first reactions, to be reductive, accused Give Up of being too pop, too emo, and too simple. Gibbard’s lyrics weren’t as endlessly clever as they were on the first few Death Cab albums. Tamborello didn’t push the envelopes of his sound as Dntel, instead he appropriated his palette to Gibbard’s melodic sensibilities. Detractors of Give Up essentially called it a compromise instead of a collaboration. They assumed it to be a novelty.
Thing is, Give Up is a perfect album. It’s not a perfect album because it’s flawless, it’s a perfect album because its flaws so perfectly suited the mindset of the record’s eventual audience. Give Up succeeded on the backs of a billion MySpace adolescents and AIM status-update philosophers, learning to flirt for the first time through CRT screens, far removed from the possibilities of the heartbreak suggested in “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, “Nothing Better”, and “Clark Gable”. A year later, when Facebook had taken over as the online world’s preferred method of communication, every single person’s status update referenced “Such Great Heights”.
If that sounds insulting, it shouldn’t. The fact that Give Up unintentionally soundtracked every high school breakup from 2003 to 2007 is a testament to the immediate, undeniable communal aspects of the album: its cotton candy melodies, its unabashed melodrama, its dead-simple lyricism, its romanticized melancholy. When listening to Give Up, even if “Nothing Better” came off as cliché or “We Will Become Silhouettes” felt a bit too incongruous, the record still succeeded because it sounded both new and universal. Its hooks were as big and obvious as any indie-pop song, but they were rendered in sounds that indie kids had only been paying token attention to before. This differentiator was more important than critics gave it credit for, even if it was less important than we insisted to our collective junior year crushes.
Ten years later, those of us who watched patchwork farms while breathing in recycled air have accidentally slipped into adulthood. It’d be easy, as it so often is with art we consumed in our youth and then confronted later in life, to be sort of ashamed of our love of Give Up: “What is this nonsense about matching eye freckles!” But we’ve instead made the Postal Service’s only record a beacon and a buoy, a physical token of nostalgia. For many of us, the intervening decade has served to cut us off from everyone we shared Give Up with, and that makes it uniquely ours. As High Fidelity‘s Rob Gordon said of the Beatles: “They belong to me and though they’ll make me feel something, they won’t make me feel anything bad.” Give Up is music for anyone who had ever felt anything, and teenagers are the ones who are most willing to feel things without remorse, even if (especially if) it’s sometimes without perspective.
The bonus disc that comes with the 10th anniversary edition of Give Up neatly packages just about every Postal Service-related piece of music that’s been released, with the notable and strange exception of the remix work done under the Postal Service moniker. A rerelease such as this one deserves the full complement of available material, especially since that pool is so shallow. Hearing the duo’s take on Feist’s “Mushaboom” or Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” is sort of the point of these retrospectives, and to lose that is a bit disappointing.
What the reissue does well, however, is juxtapose the reinterpretations of the Postal Service’s work, including both the remixes from the likes of John Tejada and Matthew Dear with the covers by the Shins and Iron & Wine. Placing both of these stylistic re-imaginings together strikes at the heart of the influence Give Up spread: both acoustic guitar troubadours and mixing board virtuosos were inspired by it. This 10th anniversary release reminds us that Postal Service’s legacy is equal parts serving as a voice of an adolescent generation and narrowing the perception gap between the two worlds of its creators.
Essential Tracks: “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, “Such Great Heights”, “Nothing Better”, and “Against All Odds”