In 2003, singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard had released three increasingly popular LPs with his alt-rock group Death Cab For Cutie. By the end of the decade, they would become the poster children for crossover-friendly indie rock, and Gibbard’s deeply relatable, diary-style lyrics would convert hordes of new fans to the genre. But 10 years ago, Gibbard’s band was a lot like his genre of choice — beloved to small pockets of fans, but hidden from most of the mainstream.
Around the turn of the millennium, Gibbard wrote and recorded some vocals for his friend Jimmy Tamborello, who crafted glitchy electronic music under the name Dntel. Their collaboration became the mixtape-ready “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” which appeared on Dntel’s 2001 studio album, “Life Is Full Of Possibilities.” The song was by far the album’s most well-received, and the two friends, who lived on opposite ends of the American west coast (Tamborello in L.A. and Gibbard in Seattle), planned for an entire album of similar collaborations.
The duo was called the Postal Service, named after the method through which the two musicians traded their recordings. Their first full-length album arrived on Feb. 19, 2003 through Sub Pop, and soundtracked by Tamborello’s electronic arrangements, “Give Up” became one of the touchstones of a new generation of indie music — a surprise to everyone, including its creators, who obviously treated the project as a one-off.
Commercially, “Give Up” became Sub Pop’s most successful release since Nirvana’s “Bleach” in 1989. The album spent an incredible 111 weeks on the Independent Albums chart, peaking at No. 3 on the chart. It would finally move its millionth copy in October 2012, a testament to its ongoing popularity and influence, and has sold 1.1 million copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.The real United States Postal Service first tried to strip the duo of its name, before rethinking the matter and letting them keep it in exchange for playing a conference and letting them sell “Give Up” in the USPS online store. That’s right: “Give Up” is a federally approved album.
Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of “Give Up’s” release on Sub Pop, and on April 9, the album will get the reissue treatment, packaged along with a second disc of unreleased tracks, remixes, and other rarities. The Postal Service will also embark on a long-anticipated reunion tour, which begins April 9, and includes a stop at Coachella. But before we get too excited about the upcoming reissue and live dates, let’s look back at the Little Album That Could, a 10-song collection that has become much more than a fun side project from its two creators.
1. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight – Written after Gibbard’s girlfriend moved to Washington, D.C., “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” serves as the ambitious mission statement for the statement, with its backing harmonies and a moody outro encapsulating the juxtaposition between Tamborello’s busy instrumentals and the Death Cab frontman’s earnest crooning.
2. Such Great Heights
The chorus is one of the album’s most powerful moments, but the mood set by the opening tones became the one used in a UPS commercial. For all of its buoyant energy, “Such Great Heights” is actually about missing a loved one who’s away — “out there on the road,” perhaps.
3. Sleeping In – This is probably where Gibbard is most deservedly teased for his lyrics, although he gets points for swinging for the fences: it sounds like he was drawing inspiration from a U.S. History II class while turning the JFK assassination mystery into an analogy for mental clarity.
4. Nothing Better – The opening line recalls the “Title and Registration,” which Gibbard would record with Death Cab For Cutie later for their breakout album, “Transatlanticism.” “Nothing Better” is still perfect romantic-mixtape fare, especially the line about “making you my bride and slowly growing old together.”
5. Recycled Air – A very ethereal, blissful song, that marks a sharp left turn by being decidedly less lyrical. Instead, Gibbard does a good job of following Tamborello’s instrumental lead on this one.
6. Clark Gable – What better image to conjure up feelings of love than one of the iconic leading men in film history? Over one of Tamborello’s more playful compositions, Gibbard unabashedly longs for idealized romance.
7. We Will Become Silhouettes
Stay indoors! If you don’t, warns this expansive single, you’ll be poisoned and become a shadow of yourself. something about being poisoned if you go outside and turning into a silhouette. The oddball track actually peaked at No. 82 on the Hot 100.
8. This Place Is a Prison – While Gibbard drops words like “candelabra” and dares his voice to reach its lowest volume, the smattering of percussion builds up into a lush web. One of the more understated, and overlooked, songs on the album.
9. Brand New Colony – A quick wind-up produces a “Super Mario Bros.” theme riff that serves as the backbone of this sweeping pop track. Gibbard’s lyrics are particularly heartfelt here: “I’ll be the phonograph that plays your favorite albums back as you’re lying there drifting off to sleep,” he sings.
10. Natural Anthem – A beautiful string pattern opens the album’s final (and longest) song, which then invites more cacophony into the fold. Eventually, “Natural Anthem” explodes, producing a cloud of noise that ends only when Gibbard’s unifying voice calms things down at the end.