Music

The Postal Service: Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)

Photo: Brian Tamborello

Should you double-dip and buy the 10th Anniversary Edition of Give Up? It depends on how much two new tracks and five semi-obscure B-sides are worth to you.


The Postal Service

Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2013-04-09
UK Release Date: 2013-04-08
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Does it seem like 10 years since Give Up first came out? Probably not, unless you were in on the ground floor with the Postal Service, picking up the album in the first few months after it was released in February of 2003. But the album was a slow burner that eventually became Sub Pop's biggest hit record since Nirvana's Bleach and gradually crept to platinum status, reaching the 1 million sold (in the U.S.) mark in October of 2012. But besides being a stealth hit, Give Up's synth-pop sound went on to influence a generation of new bands. This likely culminated (or hit its nadir, depending on your perspective) in Owl City's 2009 mega-single "Fireflies", which sounded like a teenager using his laptop to do an effective but sub-par imitation of The Postal Service. Which is pretty much what it was.

Anyway, to celebrate the 10th anniversary, Sub Pop is releasing this two-disc Deluxe Edition, complete with a "remastering" of all the album tracks, b-sides, and remixes, and adding two brand new Postal Service songs. If ever an album didn't need remastering, it's this one. The original tracks were recorded by Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard, who corresponded back and forth through the mail (hence the band name) until the songs sounded just like they wanted. There was no outside producer offering suggestions and no major label record company interfering with them. Consequently, if there's any sonic variation between the original album and this edition, my non-audiophile ears can't detect it. I even tried a track-by-track comparison and heard no difference.

Speaking of track-by-track, Give Up itself still sounds pretty damn great 10 years later. Gibbard's fragile, subdued vocals mix perfectly with Tamborello's warm electronic beats and programming. With Jenny Lewis on board for beautiful backing harmonies, nearly every song is a winner. Opener "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" sets the stage perfectly, as Gibbard's lyrics find him gradually realizing that it was his fault a relationship ended. It's immediately engaging to hear the way the song musically progresses from slow, quiet chords, a simple, stuttering beat, and electronic bleeps to synth-string arpeggios, churning dance beats, and a guitar solo on the outro. Then there's "Such Great Heights", one of the most perfect singles of the 00's that never become a hit. The verses and chorus are equally hooky, and it's guaranteed to put a smile on all but the grumpiest faces. The albums's third single, "We Will Become Silhouettes", features Gibbard's recurring lyrical interest in sci-fi dystopias. The song is essentially a super-happy sounding description of a post-nuclear wasteland, where the survivors are confined to secure shelters for fear of spontaneously exploding if they venture outside.

This sci-fi angle is perhaps appropriate to the electronic feel of the album. There's a pretty wide range between "Sleeping In"'s cuddly description of a world where people thought that global warming was a reward for treating people with kindness ("Now we can swim any day in November") and "This Place is a Prison". The latter song originally felt like a dead spot on the album, but revisiting it now, Tamborello's slow, oppressive, buzz-filled music works as a nice contrast to the bright chirpiness of the rest of the songs. Gibbard puts personal ennui into a macro setting, as he envisions the entire Seattle area as a vast incarceration for his own self-loathing. Even "Recycled Air", which is about air travel, feels like a sci-fi concept when it's married to the electronic music. The one time when Tamborello's electronics overwhelm comes on album closer "Natural Anthem", which still sounds like a mess of three or four different ideas shoved into one track, and an instance where Gibbard threw up his hands and said "I can't write anything over the top of this."

The non-sci-fi tracks mostly feature Gibbard singing about relationships, often with a hint of self-delusion. The hero of "Clark Gable" thinks that if he sets up and films a dramatic, classic movie kiss with an ex-lover that maybe his problems will be solved. The jaunty music makes you think he might actually have a shot. Then there's "Nothing Better". Maybe the highlight of the album among an album full of highlights, this full-on duet with Lewis is Gibbard's lyrical triumph. He makes his feelings clear as he begs Lewis to give him yet another chance. Then Lewis cuts in and cuts through his every argument, "So let me help you remember / I've made charts and graphs that should finally make it clear / I've prepared a lecture / On why I have to leave." Tamborello's music is relatively spare here, letting the two vocalists take the spotlight as they argue back and forth. Of course, "Nothing Better" is marred slightly by Gibbard's botched sports reference early on. "I will block the door like a goalie tending the net / In the third quarter / Of a tied-game rivalry." I know Seattle doesn't have an NHL team, but somebody should have told him somewhere along the way that hockey has periods, not quarters.

With the remastering essentially a non-issue, the second disc is probably where most fans will make their decision whether or not to buy this album again. Of the two new songs, "Turn Around" is the weaker. It sounds exactly like what you'd expect Gibbard and Tamborello to come up with after 10 years apart. It's a perfectly accessible song that has all the hallmarks of the Postal Service but doesn't really recapture that moment in time. It's repetitive but the hooks, both electronic and melodic, aren't catchy enough to mask its repetitiveness. Instead it sounds like a perfectly decent B-side, which puts it in good company with most of the rest of disc two. The other new track, "A Tattered Line of String", is much more successful. Tamborello's beats are harder and more dance-oriented, and Gibbard throws a little soul into his vocals for a change. This is a small but noticeable progression in the band's sound, and it doesn't feel like an attempt to replicate their earlier material.

The five B-sides on disc two are a mixed bag. "Be Still My Heart" has super-cheesy lyrics, but it's also one of those subtle earworms that finds its way into the listener's head and pops up a day later. "There's Never Enough Time" doesn't quite take off, as Gibbard sings quietly and never really comes up with a vocal melody to complement Tamborello's programming. "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" is very solid, with a nice contrast between its jittery drumbeat and smooth vocal "ooh"'s and "ahh"'s. "Grow Old With Me" is dominated by Gibbard and is very pretty, but clearly a step down from the band's best material. The highlight of the B-side section is the band's cover of the 1984 Phil Collins hit "Against All Odds." Tamborello's arrangement of the song begins extremely spare, with just slow bass tones and quiet electric piano. This puts the focus directly on Gibbard's aching, impassioned vocals. Even when the arrangement opens up, Tamborello keeps it sparse enough to let Gibbard retain the spotlight, and it's absolutely the right choice.

The rest of the disc is filled with remixes and a pair of covers. The most interesting of these is the Styrofoam remix of "Nothing Better", which messes with the backing music a lot, first adding fuzz to the synths, then slow distorted guitar chords when Lewis's vocals come in. The remix continues to shift the music around under the vocals throughout the song. It's in no way an improvement on the original, but it's at least a version with some truly different ideas to share. John Tejada's disco-y take on "Such Great Heights" adds nothing to the song. The DJ Downfall Persistent Beat Remix of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" mostly strips the song of its quiet-to-loud aesthetic while adding a trance feel. And so it goes with the other remixes. Each is perfectly fine, but none is significant enough to make much of an impression.

There's a nice solo acoustic take of "Recycled Air" with just Gibbard and an acoustic guitar. Iron and Wine attempts the same thing with his cover of "Such Great Heights", but fails to make much of an impact. It's exactly what you'd expect from Sam Beam circa 2004, and it falls somewhere on the middle of the "Such Great Heights" cover continuum. It's not as good as the Ben Folds version, or as interesting as the Streetlight Manifesto take, but it's certainly better than Confide's absolutely embarrassing attempt. The Shins version of "We Will Become Silhouettes", also from 2004, is kind of fascinating. The band essentially grafted the melody and lyrics of the song on top of the rhythm and bass line of their own song "Turn a Square." Understandably, this makes "We Will Become Silhouettes" sound exactly like a Shins song.

Sub Pop and the Postal Service did a nice job of assembling the material for the second disc. The assortment of remixes avoids giving us endless takes of the same tracks. Die-hards will be happy to have all of the material in one place. Although in 2013, it's not a stretch to assume that die-hards already have much of this stuff in one place: their computers and portable music players. Still, for those who don't, the seven obscure/new tracks on disc two are definitely worth having.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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