For awhile there, I was kind of worried about Sub Pop. After reigning supreme for most of the early 90's, they seemed to go through a bit of a down period where they lost their rudder a bit. Over the course of the past year and a half, though, they've been spreading their wings again and taking some chances. Last year saw quite a few excellent releases, from the psychedelic indie of Ugly Cassanova to the lo-fi folk of Iron And Wine, and now this year is kicking off with a bang with the electronic-pop sounds of The Postal Service.
A collaboration between Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard, The Postal Service is basically a slightly revised version of DNTEL. The duo rounds out this newest incarnation with other vocals by Jen Wood, as well as Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley. The result is one of the best slabs of electronic pop music that I've heard in a long time. Originally, the teamup was supposed to only be an EP, but someone convinced the duo to go for the whole ball of wax. Although there are a couple weaker spots, this is easily one of the most infectious releases that I've heard in quite some time. Since the day that I picked it up, I've literally listened to it at least once every day in its entirety (which is pretty damn rare given my short attention span).
If you're trying to imagine the sound of the group, just imagine the sound of their previous collaboration "(This Is The Dream) Of Evan And Chan," then bump the pop factor up quite a few notches. Because of that, some people who liked the more experimental side of Tamborello's DNTEL project will simply find it a little too boppy for their liking, but it's one of those little discs that practically drills down into your subconscious. The album opens with two of the best tracks on the entire disc in "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "Such Great Heights." The opener is a stuttering, glitched-out track with some great lyrical turns by Gibbard, and after some orchestral swells about halfway through, it takes off racing and builds on top of itself, adding some pretty vocals by Lewis and cut-up guitar melodies. "Such Great Heights" resumes things at nearly the same tempo, pulsing along with ping-pong electronics and a jacked-up retro beat, while Gibbard adds some downright saccharine vocals.
Although the production nearly flawless throughout (encorporating both a retro and contemporary feel at the same time), some of the tracks stumble a bit because of the combination of lyrics and music. "Nothing Better" features a duet between Gibbard and Wood, and although the back-and-forth conversation is straight-up cheesy 80's style, the giddy pace of the music keeps things on the rails pretty well. While the downward tempo changes are a nice break on tracks like "Sleeping In" and "This Place Is A Prison," they feel a bit out-of-place placed next to the sense-of-wonder feeling that much of the rest of the album captures.
The above qualms are pretty small ones, though, and the rest of the album throws off the reigns and gets it going again. "Brand New Colony" starts out like a runaway 8-bit game system and eventually shambles into a headlong rush of hope, while "Natural Anthem" closes out the disc with easily the hardest-edge track, slamming increasingly grimy breakbeats over layers of distorted string loops before Gibbard finally comes in and adds some parting words. After hearing this collaboration, I can only hope that this isn't the only installment for the group, because they managed to harness an infectious energy and pour it out into 45 minutes of great music. Even if they wear their heart on their sleeve a bit too much sometimes (some will say "Twee!"), at least it's easy to hear that it's a vibrant one. Hopefully the next installment will blend a little more of that experimental edge into things, but until then I'll be happy to sing loudly along with this one.