You can’t talk about semi-under-the-radar indie pop supergroups without mentioning The Postal Service. They had one of the most influential albums of the early 2000s with a solid foundation based on raw artistic talent, technical skill, and meaningful song lyrics. And, with the release of “Such Great Heights”, they found a bit of fame as well.
The Postal Service made an enormous splash in the world of indie pop with their album Give Up in 2003, and we’re absolutely still feeling, and listening to, that great album.
Most indie pop fans know Ben Gibbard’s main project as the singer and guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie. But, what makes The Postal Service different is Jimmy Tamborello’s electronic twist. Their sound is unique, iconic, and totally free of the restrictions that come with music that’s made to be sold.
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For a band with only one studio album, there’s a lot to dig into, so let’s start with the foundations and build from there.
The Postal Service – the band at a glance
The Postal Service is the name of the project Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello started together, even though they were separated by some distance. While The Postal Service is still at its heart an indie pop group, they’ve shown great creativity in how they blend their heavy electronic leanings thanks to Jimmy’s experience in the techno world.
Together, largely over mail, they wrote Give Up and toured for a decade from 2003 to 2013. And in 2013, they reunited to play, among other venues, the Coachella music festival.
As was mentioned, The Postal Service was able to have total creative freedom in what they wrote and played. This is largely because the project initially began as a pure side project collaboration between the two artists.
Gibbard has even mentioned in interviews that the beauty of Give Up was how unrestrained he and Jimmy felt while writing it. The subsequent stress of success, commercialism, and pressure to make more was what ultimately killed any attempts at a second album, especially after Death Cab started finding more and more success around the same time.
Gibbard and Tamborello collaborated on the first album by sending their music back and forth through the mail, which ended up inspiring their name. It was a passion project for them, and they had fun putting it together by swapping tracks and ideas.
They ended up touring with that album alone for an entire decade before hanging up the act. And although a second album was highly, and we mean highly anticipated, The Postal Service is on a permanent hiatus. All members of the band say in interviews that they’re open to a reunion but are not hopeful for one.
The Postal Service members
Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are the main members of The Postal Service. Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley also lends her voice to Give Up by way of backup vocals.
Ben Gibbard is the main vocalist for the group, but he’s better known for being the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, a closely related indie rock group with a whopping nine studio albums to date. He also has a solo project called Former Lives (2012), which you should definitely check out if you’re a fan of The Postal Service.
Jimmy Tamborello is the producer for The Postal Service. His best known solo project goes by the name Dntel. He DJs electronic, glitch, indietronica, and folktronica.
Jenny Lewis does a lovely job singing backup vocals for The Postal Service. Her primary project before she went solo was Rilo Kiley, an indie rock band. But, these days she’s successfully doing her own thing. She more recently appeared as an opener for Harry Styles’ Love on Tour.
Where is The Postal Service from?
One of the really unique things about The Postal Service is where they’re both from.
The Postal Service is officially from Seattle, but Gibbert and Tamborello collaborated through the mail long distance largely because their schedules never seemed to line up. Gibbert lived in Seattle and Tamborello lived in Los Angeles during the writing of the album.
The Postal Service: Such Great Heights and other songs of note
Let’s talk about a couple of great songs off of the album.
Such Great Heights
For such an amazing song, it’s funny that it didn’t find really strong levels of popularity until the Iron and Wine cover appeared in the movie Garden State.
Charles Cross, a music journalist who interviewed with KEXP, explained how the song wasn’t well known until the Garden State soundtrack started selling. The movie was a huge commercial success. People began by listening to the cover, and it got them interested in the original.
If it’s been a while since you listened to this dreamy track, take a few minutes to enjoy it again.
Nothing Better is one of those breakup songs that you could accidentally dance to if you weren’t listening closely. It’s a great showcase of Gibbard’s lyrical leanings on Give Up. The verses to this short song are packed with similes and metaphors that describe the emotion in a way that is deceptively simple.
The high, girlish voice on the track isn’t actually Jenny Lewis. For Nothing Better, Jen Wood loaned her talent to the duet with Gibbard.
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight is the kind of opening track that really drives home the idea that artists sometimes still do put their albums in a deliberate order. The relatively simple drum beats underscore Gibbard and Lewis’ equally unvaried melody and harmony, giving full attention to the lyrics.
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight is a departure from similes, as the lyrics are fairly literal. Clark Gable is another track that does this. The way they both stand out so sharply against the other songs, which all lean heavily on those poetic verses, grounds the album in heartache and reality.
Where did The Postal Service get their name?
The band started out as Ben and Jimmy swapping CDs back and forth through the mail. Since they lived in different places, that was the only way to collaborate. Ben would send some lyrics and melodies, then Jimmy would do his thing, and back and forth they went, creating what would eventually turn into Give Up.
It probably seemed only fitting for their namesake to become the US Postal Service, even if it meant being issued a cease and desist once they grew in popularity. Luckily, USPS agreed to let them keep the name as long as they could tap Ben and Jimmy for benefit concerts. They even got to use Such Great Heights in one of their commercials.
What type of music is The Postal Service?
The Postal Service is definitely indie pop. However, Jimmy brings an electronic, techno edge to their style, blending the genres. The term “indietronica” basically exists thanks to Ben and Jimmy.
Indietronica is the name for the type of music The Postal Service is known for. It’s a blend of indie pop, electronica, and techno themes. Jimmy Tamborello was particularly good at picking out odd-sounding instruments and elements to add to the songs, giving them the interesting lift that makes them so catchy and exciting.
Is The Postal Service Owl City?
Even though Ben Gibbard sort of looks and sounds like Adam Young, Owl City is definitely its own band. The two share a similar musical style, blending pop with electronic. Owl City has The Postal Service to thank for paving the way!
When did The Postal Service get started?
The Postal Service formed in 2001 after Gibbard wrote some lyrics for a Dntel album. They realized they had great musical chemistry, and the rest is history.
Who wrote Such Great Heights?
The Postal Service wrote the original version of Such Great Heights, but it has since been covered by artists like Anderson .Paak, Iron and Wine, and Streetlight Manifesto. Postmodern Jukebox even has a version!
Bands like The Postal Service
If you like The Postal Service but are totally heartbroken they only ever made one album, we’ve got great news. Since they paved the way for indie pop and electronica to come together, so many bands have picked up the style.
Passion Pit is a great example of an indie pop/techno band like The Postal Service, although their music is a little more electronic than Gibbard’s work. They’re a five man group from Massachusetts and have played festivals like Firefly and WayHome. Start with Gossamer (2012), their #4 Billboard hit album or their EP Chunk of Change (2008), which feels a bit more spiritually similar to Give Up.
A second, great band like The Postal Service is Owl City, another band from the mid-2000s. They’re geared a bit more towards the teenage crowd, but they nail the indie pop/electronica style. The lead singer sounds a lot like Gibbard, too, so if that’s what you’re after, you’ll really like their stuff.
Neither of these bands really capture the soul of The Postal Service, however, whose album had complex, meaningful lyrics and a more slow and steady pace. The Postal Service managed a more mellow, easy version of electronica laced indie pop.
Coconut Records is probably the closest you’ll come to a band like The Postal Service. Nighttiming (2007) is a great album to start with, and “Track Changes” feels like it belongs on Give Up. Though far less electronic, the style of the lyrics is very close to the kind of thing Gibbard would write.
The Postal Service: Such Great Heights – Final thoughts
You’re not alone if Give Up leaves you wanting more, but The Postal Service was a band that burned hot and bright for one single album. Then, their story told, Gibbard and Tamborello turned their attention to other projects.
The Postal Service is a really excellent indie pop band, and even as we mourn the potential for any more albums from them, Give Up is basically perfection. It’s always worth a listen, even after you’ve heard it a hundred times.
What’s your favorite track off the album? Let us know in the comments.