The Importance of the Postal Service
In the About link to this blog, I mentioned that my favorite group of the moment is the Postal Service. There seems no better way to begin this blog than to investigate why I think that they occupy a special place in modern music.

Adrian Newey
The Postal Service - Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard

The group is an offshoot resulting from collaboration between Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and it's in this that we find the roots of the interesting combination that is the Postal Service's music. Dntel is an indie electronic band although, in songs like The Dream of Evan and Chan, they are already moving towards the development that finds its culmination the Postal Service.

Ben Gibbard is a lyricist and vocalist of rare talent and it is this meeting of electronic music and words that, by chance or intent, allows the Postal Service to set a new standard for subsequent electronic groups. The experiments of electronics have always been interesting but have generally held little meaning beyond the banal in the melodic or lyrical content produced. The Postal Service insists that it is time for electronics to grow up and enter the main stream of popular music. The result is that their music is both interesting and melodic, both catchy and possessed of a depth in the lyrics that is exceptional in any form of music.

The fact that the group has succeeded in making this breakthrough is extensively demonstrated by the number of covers to their songs on YouTube. Acapella groups in particular seem to be drawn to Postal Service songs but more traditional musicians are also having a go. The fact is that, for the first time, electronic music has become worthy of imitation and interpretation.

Take, for instance these few examples, culled from YouTube, of the Postal Service's best known song, Such Great Heights. The first is by Anaker and a violinist friend; not having the electronics, they have transposed the sounds to their instruments and produced a very effective version. Anaker's voice is light and subtle enough to capture the original feeling of the lyrics too.

In contrast, Alex has refused to mimic the electronic sounds, accepting that guitar alone cannot do so. Instead, he re-creates the song and makes it his own.

Finally, here is the Australian professional musician, Ken Folds, giving what I call the low tech version of what began life as an electronic piece of music. It is very effective in reproducing the feel of the original, yet is different enough to be worth doing.

There are multiple versions of this and other Postal Service songs littering the dark halls of YouTube, surely an indication that these are songs that bear repeating. At times, the acapella groups sound classical in their renditions and it all goes to illustrate the true strength of the original music. The Postal Service are not only experimental in what they do - they are also very gifted musicians.


I have a three-degrees connection to The Postal Service (through Ben) and I like their music very much.

I find it funny that a song from an album called "The Postal Service Give Up" is used to sell rival service UPS, but for now I digress.

The Postal Service are one of the few things I've heard since 2000 that have made me stop and think, "Wow, I need more of that..." I will get into that a bit more elsewhere.

The acceptable mixture of the electronic and the so-called organic was something I sought in the 90's and so it was nice to hear "Such Great Heights" for the first time. The only thing that bothers me is that I think that it's been nearly five years since that first listen, and though it's nice to still hear the songs used in different places, shouldn't we be hearing that sound reproduced in many places replicated by industry generated groups, selling things all over the place?

Then again, maybe I like the sound -because- nobody is trying to sell it to death?

I haven't heard any covers of Postal Service besides the Iron and Wine one... I -do- wonder why so many people would want to perform acoustic covers of "Such Great Heights" but not "Days Go By" (Dirty Vegas' Mitsubishi-selling club hit has an acoustic version as a bonus track.)
Date Added: 21/07/2007

Is that not always the way with the pioneers, Chunter? That they are disregarded in their time but their work speaks to the young musicians and influences their later products. I am quite sure that The Postal Service has had an effect on the musicians of tomorrow and that they will be more widely understood in the future.

Of course, as you point out, when everyone is doing it, we will be seeking something new and different. To be interested in the development of popular music is to be forever seeking out the innovators and trying to see how their work builds on the past and points to what is yet to come.

Thank you for bringing "Days Go By" to my attention. I had not heard it before (having lived in England until a couple of years ago, there is much that I have missed on the American music scene - but it's fun catching up!) but agree that it is deserving of wider appreciation.

I think so many musicians attempt a cover of "Such Great Heights" because of the challenge of reproducing the electronic sounds effectively. Especially this is true of the acapella groups - it's fun to make electronic noises! But it's Ben's poetic gift for simple but profound lyrics that makes the song last and last...
Date Added: 21/07/2007

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