Thursday, January 08, 2004


The Postal Service
Give Up
(Sub Pop)/
Death Cab For Cutie
(Barsuk Records)

Britney has ostensibly become a punchline. Christina is a scary alternative world version of herself. Fred Durst can’t even get himself arrested.

This was a year in which we saw the unraveling of the purported mainstream. Pop has, for a lack of a better term, popped like a balloon inflated beyond its capacity. The masses, now more needy and perhaps more intelligent, are looking for traces of substance because of a collective taste that is progressively becoming somewhat refined. This may be the reason behind the influx and rising popularity of expressive and emotional bands that have topped the charts grabbing the attention of adolescent America. Linkin Park and Evanessnce encapsulate the pain and anguish of being misunderstood. Blink 182’s newest album of sugarcoated angst has opened the door for newer bands like Brand New and Thursday. In fact, even the New York Times (not considered the purveyor of cutting edge music) addressed this phenomenon in a recent weekend article claiming that this newly-mainstream genre (misnamed "emo") has compelled teens to get in touch with their own feelings, creating an outlet for empathy, instead of rage. The kids want to feel. And feel they will.

But the fundamental problem with this genre is its alienation of the adult population and the adult disinterest in music so formulaic, too intentional, too mathematical (or perhaps, more appropriately, too Algebraic). It is angst-by-numbers. Drama was so high school. Now it’s time to party like it’s your birfday. Four years ago, I, admittedly, was into emo but that was when it was still somewhat underground. And despite my current propensity to grab an emo album every once in a while, I find it difficult to admit to anyone this guilty pleasure.

Ben Gibbard, lead singer of Death Cab For Cutie and the Postal Service is the for-runner of emo for adults. His expressiveness is sophisticated and mature, a voice of yearning and despondency without the messy side dish of anger and discord. His primary band, Death Cab For Cutie (yet again, an unfortunate name) has been the most notable collective to ripen into an indie-rock contender. With each release, the band puts forth a sublime calmness that effects the heart with subtlety and tenderness. Especially in this year of particular loss, Gibbard rises to the occasion of stepping into the tremendous shoes left vacant by the mindblowingly sparse songwriter, Elliott Smith. Gibbard's voice has never been this frail. Moreover, the production is so vivid and three-dimensional thanks to guitarist Chris Walla, who, in his own right, is becoming a studio-ingenue. Songs like "Title & Registration" ("there’s no blame for how our love did slowly fade/and now it’s gone like it wasn’t there at all/ and here I rest where disappointment and regret collide lying awake at night") and "A Lack of Color" ("…and all the girls in every girlie magazine can’t make me feel less alone/I’m reaching for the phone…") are little four minute trips into the cavities of your heart, bringing you through the proverbial organ and it’s flowing stream of dejection.

The other band, the Postal Service, is Gibbard’s side project, a collaboration between DJ, Jimmy Tamberello and himself. While the essence of this album is similar to Transatlanticism, in execution, it is a synth-pop album. I can’t remember an record since the mid-80’s that has successfully inspired me to dance sentimentally (which, in response to your question, looks nothing like the Marcarena). Technology and dance music combined with a celebratory sense of emotion is a startling strange dichotomy, one that Gibbard and Tamberello accomplish supremely well. The first single, the retro sounding song, "Such Great Heights" would have been the biggest hit had it still been 1986. The duet, "Nothing Better" with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, is the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" of our day. Song after song, the album has the consistent sound of nostalgia and futurism, living in tight harmony. And mind you, the nostalgia is neither ironic nor winking, it's real like braces in elementary school. Like Members Only windbreakers, when you didn't think it was cool to wear them. And the futuristic aspect never overwhelms or challenges. It's a promising future, where everyone flies, food comes in a pill and your dog talks with a lisp; not like all the futures you saw in the Governor Schwarzenegger movies.

Oddly enough, the majority of our culture’s drama revolves around teens. When you turn on the TV, when you go shopping for records, when you peruse the movie section (I won’t even get into the small sizes of the clothes in the women’s section at Hollister!). What the makers of our entertainment are ignoring is that adults are confused, as well. We want an outlet for our angst, albeit a different sort of frustration with a boss, a parent, or a spouse. We have social anxiety, nervousness in new crowds and most importantly concerns about what to wear (and if it matches). And while the WB has forgotten this, cast our target market aside, Ben Gibbard has not and for this, we…sniff, sniff…thank him.


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