by Amrit Paul
Did you ever find an album with songs so sterling that you don’t listen to all of them at once, just so you don’t finish it too soon?
But, it's too soon always.
Give Up (2001), by The Postal Service
It’s like that book of delicious stories, or that (unsurprisingly) thin book-of-poems you can finish in one sitting, but you don’t want to.
“I know you're wise beyond your years...”
Give Up was a one-time collaboration between Ben Gibbard (the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie)
and a glitch-music maker, Jimmy Tamborello.
Ben and Jimmy, towns apart, would mail each other the music and the lyrics.
That’s how the album came into being – through CD-Rs shuttled via posts.
That’s how the band– or the hookup, really – got its name.
Electronic pop is vast; usually correlated to danceable music (think Ke$ha, or K-Pop),
or Owl City and the likes,
but Ben lends to the beats this sense of sorrow, of dreamy-eyed brooding that never sounds too fancy.
Except when they do, it’s followed by
"True, it may seem like a stretch,
but it’s thoughts like these that catch my troubled head..."
It’s amazing how a song about depression is about nuclear holocaust (or how a song about this holocaust is also about depression; you see, both feel like the end of the world):
"I wanted to walk through the empty streets
And feel something constant under my feet,
But all the news reports recommended that
I stay indoors
Because the air outside will make
Our cells divide at an alarming rate,
Until our shells simply cannot hold
All our insides in,
And that's when we'll explode
(and it won't be a pretty sight)"
A version of this song played as the title sequence of The Art of Getting By,
where the protagonist is a fatalist teenager. (Of course.)
If you wonder how melancholy in peppy tunes sounds like, Give Up will tell you. Because often, that’s how melancholy is. Beneath happy-seeming colours. Or faces.
“Sleeping In”, sung a year before Green Day's “Wake Me Up When September Ends”,
speaks of the similar reluctance to wake up to unpleasant truths.
Except that it's about another month.
"Now we can swim any day in November
Don't wake me I plan on sleeping in"
Ben Gibbard's warble complements his writing.
The songs have a lot of covers, mostly wonderful. Some, even better.
Birdy, The Shins, Amanda Palmer, Iron and Wine, Choir!Choir!Choir!, Ben Folds have all covered the songs in starkly different ways. This shows how potent the lyrics and the world they educe really are.
What I love is how he treats love with caution, and caution with love.
"I'll be the waterwings that save you if you start
An open tab when your judgment's on the brink"
I wish, like most of us, that I were born in an earlier decade. Late 80’s, at least.
Imagine your teenage years with phablet-sized Walkmans (men?)
and just-released songs that make perfect sense.
I, like most of us, often long for a time I didn’t belong to.
This non-existent nostalgia is what this album evokes for me.
One might argue that the songs still hold relevance –
we still “seem so out of context/in this gaudy apartment complex”.
But the bars never turn out their lights.
These days, the district never sleeps.
This album is like a personal diary burned onto a CD.
A diary that associates vulnerable with “close” and “detached”,
but never making it sound like “weak”.
It’s as if vulnerability and celebration jammed together to see who’s stronger.
“They will see us waving from such great heights
‘Come down now’, they’ll say”
Like someone on YouTube commented on one of the songs,
it is “the love-letter The Postal Service was meant to deliver.”
Which one? You'll know when you listen.
And none of this feels unrealistic.
They are the poetic-kind of warm - fleeting, yes, but honest.
It’s like a lullaby and a wake-up call.
They don’t rise above and look down upon you.
The songs would sit beside you and tell you what went wrong.
"I know you're wise beyond your years,
But do you ever get the fear
That your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?"
Oh, we do.
Find the album playlist below: