REVIEW: The Postal Service: Such Great Heights EP
The Postal Service: Such Great Heights EP [Subpop, 2003]
Three words? go ing postal
This website has already published a review of the Postal Service's debut LP, Give Up. It was written by the fine, fine Dusty Dewan. Mr. Dewan writes with verve, insight, and a sharp sense of humour. He has good taste. He has a pretty face. It would not be an exageration to say that he writes very fine reviews.
Mr. Dewan did not much like Give Up. He didn't hate it, by any means, but to him it was a "cold" record, with "fast, clean songs," identical in their frigid formula. Upon reading his review, I would not think that Mr. Dewan would recommend the album to anyone. He gave it a 7.4. "Less than stellar, but pleasant enough."
I wouldn't want to interfere with Mr. Dewan's review. He has a right to his opinion, even if he is bafflingly incorrect, woefully ignorant and tragically mistaken. Not that I'm saying Dusty is "bafflingly incorrect, woefully ignorant and tragically mistaken." At least not in those words. He's simply wrong.
But that's fine! I have no problem conceding the territory to him, letting one of Tangmonkey's finest writers slander a delightful, delicious, outstandingly fun record! I have no urge to elbow in on his territory, undermining his viewpoint with a second opinion! Just because he gave the record a 7.4 instead of the 9.1 it deserved? No problem! I'm content to sit over here and ignore the songs on Give Up. I won't say a word about the majesty and ache of "Clark Gable," the way its lightness conceals a thunderstorm. I won't comment on the lyrical beauty of "Sleeping In," the magic of the pictures Ben Gibbard paints ("Again last night I had that strange dream / where everything was exactly as it seemed. / No concerns about the world getting warmer / people thought they were just being rewarded"). No - Dusty didn't dig the album, and that's fine. It's fine. No problem. I'll just write up a few words on the group's preceding, four-song EP. I leave Give Up to his deaf, tin ears. What's more, I'll buy him a beer. C'mere Dusty, you big lug.
Such Great Heights contains a mere quartet of tracks: the title song, heard on Give Up, a b-side called "There's Never Enough Time," and two Postal Service covers by other bands.
"Such Great Heights" is indeed a stand-out on Give Up (the album I'm not going to write about). It is, like most of the Postal Service's tracks, a zippy, melodic little thing - Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard sings with indie pop earnestness; a good ear; simple, clear imagery. Beneath his voice run the synth, samples and drum-machines of laptop guru Dntel. Their collaboration stands a fair distance from IDM kids like DJ Shadow or Kid Koala - Dntel's contributions sound electronic, not organic; they enliven straightforward pop songs, invest them with a disco skitter. The 80s feel to the production is reduced by the cleanness of the sound, the purity of the romantic sentiments. For all the electronic flourishes, the Postal Service plays spare, pruned songs. They're fresh, spring-tinged, easy to listen to. Easy to toe-tap to.
But enough about the Postal Service in general! Mr. Dewan has already covered this! The effortless beauty of Give Up is not up for discussion!
"There's Never Enough Time," a b-side, is a low-key, forgettable track - mellow, as the Postal Service goes. Synths scuttle about like nanoscopic beetles, Gibbard leaving a thin trail of vocals overtop. It's followd by a enthusiastic cover of "We Will Become Silhouettes," performed by none-other than labelmates The Shins. The song is here transformed into something much more conventional, verse-chorus-verse, and although their warm, acoustic pop is pleasant, it doesn't bring with it any revelations. What comes next, however, does - Iron & Wine's version of "Such Great Heights" is on its own worth the cost of the Such Great Heights EP. Sam Beam's whispered vocals, gentle strum, let the beauty of the lovesong unfold, blossom like a breathtaking ruby flower. He slows the song right down, sings it with soul, and the loveliness of what Gibbard has been singing suddenly falls under the light. It is breathtaking.
After listening to the Iron & Wine cover, the original - track two on Give Up, following the slow-building excitement of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," preceding the aforementioned "Sleeping In" - becomes all the more rich. The poetry of the lyrics conjures a beautiful love, then watch as this love evaporates. As Give Up proceeds, the songs become desperate attempts to recover that moment, or noisy-and-busy attempts to forget it. Nostalgia is replaced with a fingers-in-the-ears "la la la la la." For those of us who have heard Iron & Wine's cover and can now, uh, truly appreciate "Such Great Heights," the Postal Service becomes a moving excercise in stasis. The Postal Service replaces the call to "Give up!" with melody, rhythm, the distraction of an unprejudiced dance-beat. It puts aside the ache.
I say this, of course, only in order to further elucidate the nature of the Such Great Heights EP. That's the record I'm reviewing, after all! Dusty Dewan already wrote about Give Up. He wrote that it "lack[ed] substance," that it was "often obnoxious," that the Postal Service were "trapped within a mess of ... songs". So what? I don't care about that. I feel no need to refute it. No-sir! I'm not reviewing Give Up; I'm just recommending Such Great Heights - as an isolated, discrete album. That's all I'm talking about! There is no spoon! Listen to Dusty - the Postal Service are crappy. Give Up sucks! The world is flat! Ha ha! Weee! I am so happy! I am so happy!
(For the love of god, somebody help me!)