Wax Stories #9: The Postal Service – Give Up

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Postal Service Give Up cover

I can remember distinctly an argument I had with my friend Brandon in junior high concerning the validity of electronic music.

“Techno is totally music dude,” Brandon said.

“Dude. It’s not. Literally. It’s just computer noises,” I said with confidence.

“What? Does every song need a guitar to be music?” he replied, trying to call my bluff.

“No! But it needs instruments. That’s what music is.”

“No way dude. Anything with a beat is music.”

“Is this music, Brandon?” I said as I started tapping a rhythm with my pencil on my desk.

“No.”

“Then neither is techno,” I replied with a smirk. I like to imagine I put on sunglasses and walked away from an explosion after saying that, but in high school I just didn’t have the budget.

There’s a slight chance I might have been wrong about that one. When I first started getting into music, I was a staunch purist. Anything that wasn’t a group of people plugging in amps and playing instruments wasn’t “real music.” I wasn’t the first kid to think it and won’t be the last (you can currently find them commenting on Justin Beiber YouTube videos). This was during a time in my life when I would say things like ” I like all genres except for country and rap.” Not only was it pretentious, it was inhibiting me from listening to a lot of great music.

In my defense though, there was a lot of shitty music coming out around the time. For someone who grew up holding Aerosmith as the pinnacle of musicianship J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” and Darude’s “Sandstorm” weren’t really holding up for me. Techno just sounded fake to me. It felt like it needed Ma-Ti to give it some heart (“gooooo Planet!”). I was virtually immovable on my position. So much so I even pretended to hate Daft Punk whenever Brandon mentioned them, while secretly listening to “One More Time” and “Around the World” at home and in private.

Then Ben Gibbard came around. That doe eyed little sap would change everything for me.

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As a point of reference, I didn’t initially know Gibbard as “the Death Cab for Cutie guy;” I first knew him as “the Postal Service guy.” It was by strange, nerdy chance that I even got introduced to the band. It’s almost too ironic how much of it is tied to a laptop.  Brandon, our friend Austin, and I (collectively known as B.A.D.) were walking around Austin’s neighborhood late into the summer of 2004. Not just walking, war-walking. We carried around Brandon’s massive Dell laptop, with his wireless card plugged in, searching for free unsecured Internet. It was our version of war-driving, having to make due without our licenses. Sure, we could’ve just stayed at Austin’s and had Internet for free, but where’s the adventure in that?

We stopped in front of one Austin’s neighbors houses where Brandon picked up a signal. “Holy cow! We can check our Mypaces…in the middle of the road! What a thrill!” We were pretty excited. Then we noticed the teen girl who lived there spotted us from the window. She made her way to the porch to ask us what we were doing but we booked it back to Austin’s place before she could start the vigorous interrogation. It was a close call, for sure.

When we got back, we went online (effectively defeating the purpose of hunting for Internet). Austin signed on to his MSN Messenger and ended up chatting with the neighbor girl from before (effectively defeating the purpose of running away from her). Somehow I ended up adding her to my own MSN Messenger. As I mentioned in my last Wax Story, most of my summers were spent talking to strangers online.

I think she and I only had a couple conversations, most of which were pretty surface level. But we decided to exchange some music. With my slow Internet, songs usually took half an hour or more to transfer but I always relished the mp3s even more because of it. The first song she sent me, and only one I recall, was “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service. I looped it in my iTunes player for the rest of the day and listened to it constantly throughout the week. Bleep bloops, synths, and drum loops. One of my initial thoughts was, “I can’t let Brandon know how much I like this.”

Postal Service White Vinyl

About a year later, I found myself at the mall with my grandma. Between war walking and this, you could tell I was a real cool kid. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to take her into Hot Topic with me. I’m sure my sweet, bingo loving Grandma felt very comfortable on her scooter listening to the sounds of Hawthorne Heights and the sights of pink and black mini skirts as I searched through their record bin. That’s where I found a copy of The Postal Services’ “Give Up.”

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with a good friend Amanda Davidson. Something she mentioned before I even had a record player.

“Of all the modern bands, I think that The Postal Service would sound best on vinyl,” she said while talking to someone else.

“Why? What difference is there?” I asked.

“Vinyl sounds waaaay different. It sounds a lot better than everything else.”

“Interesting.”

It all started to come full circle for me. Without even realizing it in that moment that I picked up that record at Hot Topic, I was making a change in how I listened to music. I wasn’t conformed to one format or genre like I was a year before. Maybe I was maturing. Maybe my tastes were changing. Maybe it was all just silly because I watched as my grandma paid the gothed out cashier and bought me the record as a repayment for helping her around the house.

As I watched Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, and Jimmy Tamborello at Sasquatch Festival this past May, all of this came rushing back to me. All of these strange and embarrassing memories. All of the shit I gave Brandon and others for listening to bleep bloop music and here I was watching Tamborello stand behind a set of laptops on stage. All of the cringing I had thinking about buying the album at Hot Topic instead of somewhere else as Ben Gibbard danced in all black with swooping bangs across the stage. All the money and years I’d spent collecting records and branching out in my taste based off of one off-the-cuff comment from Amanda.

If there was any embarrassment along the way, it was worth it just for that moment where I belted out all the words to “Such Great Heights”  in the front row with thousands of others. I guess bleep bloops aren’t so bad after all.

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Previous Wax Story: Pinback – Summer in Abaddon

Next Week: Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

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My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 – 11)

EffinListsTop2012

I know it sounds a bit over enthusiastic, but 2012 is one of the better years of music I can recall in recent memory. It felt like all the different genres and sub-genres were on the top of their game.

I don’t want to ramble too long now, but I would like to put out the disclaimer that I have not listened to every single album that came out this year. In the past, I’ve written my top albums lists for more formal publications which meant trying to create a list that was centered on importance of the albums in the scheme of the larger music community. However, since this is my personal blog, I’ve decided to order these just be my own interest and liking.

So without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2012.

25. Metz – [self-titled]

2012 felt like the second coming of “the year that punk broke.” Instead of describing Metz’s self-titled debut album, I might as well just describe a bulldozer or a wrecking ball. It’s thunderous, destructive, erupting, and pummels buildings into dust (well, almost). Of the raucous garage/punk albums to come out this year, Metz’ did it the loudest and maybe the harshest – citation: “Wasted.”

24. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear is probably one of the most intricate and skilled groups in music right now. All too often I’ve seen group with talented members produce incredibly lackluster music because “hey lets throw in 5 time signatures and I’ll come up with some disorienting counterpoint melodies” just doesn’t usually sound very good. On “Shields,” Grizzly Bear is able to harness their abilities into a richly textured piece with inviting melodies. The lead single “Yet Again” exemplifies their tactics of throwing in unusual and galloping harmonies to produce a singular accessible track.

23. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes


Any artist who gets the Thom Yorke stamp of approval must have something going for them. “Until The Quiet Comes” has Flying Lotus prove yet again that beats don’t just have to be “cool and interesting,” they can also be moving and wraith-like. Tracks like “Getting There” find FlyLo treading ground laid down by the like of Nujabes years before. At any moment on “Until The Quiet Comes” the songs can go from fragile to an infectious groove.

22. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala is definitely headphone music. Every listen to “Lonerism” is a new chance to discover some new guitar effect or overdub you didn’t notice before. Psychedelic-garage rock, through Tame Impala, is making a come back from the label of “high school Pink Floyd tribute band” to beautiful, intricate pop outfit. Whirring amp feedback on “Gotta Be Above” and flange accents on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” are wonderfully weird Easter eggs for a powerfully infection record.

21. Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives


For those who have followed Death Cab For Cutie from the early records till now, the past few years have been confusing, awkward, and sometimes even upsetting (“IF HE DOESN’T WRITE ANOTHER SAD SONG, I’M GOING TO BURN DOWN BEN GIBBARD’S HOUSE AND SPREAD THE ASHES ALL OVER THE SET OF ‘NEW GIRL!'”).  While I wasn’t a big fan of “Codes and Keys” and struggled with half of “Narrow Stairs,” Ben Gibbard’s solo effort “Former Lives” seems to accomplish the direction those two albums were heading in.  The storytelling of “Teardrop Windows” and the self-realization of “Oh, Woe” give glimpses of ghosts of Gibbard’s past while the instrumentation shows where he’s at now.

20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

A hip-hop album detailing life growing up in Compton is not necessarily original on a surface level, but Kendrick Lamar is an artist who knows the importance of perspective. “good kid, m.a.a.d. city” gives Lamar’s insights on the self-destructive tendencies of his beloved hometown with spiritual and pensive overtones throughout but mostly deals with his own personal struggles. The stand out track “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” finds Lamar lifting up his music as the one thing that he wants to keep untainted, a sort of emotional core to the record.

“I am a sinner whose probably gonna sin again. Please forgive me, things I don’t understand. Sometimes I want to be alone. Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”

In just one line (on a record full of equally as brilliant one liners) Lamar weaves in art, loneliness, and faith into his own mission statement. So while Yeezy and Hova are debating whether or not their jackets are Margiela, Lamar will be out here relating to everyone else who can’t afford a yacht.

19. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 - 11)

Since when did The Tallest Man On Earth start going electronic?

Vocalist Joe Newman (whom I’m still not convinced isn’t Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man, himself) brings grit and imperfection to a genre dominated by the pristine production of experimental-electronic-rock. The songs feel like fables, drawing inspiration from elementary sources like “Where the Wild Things Are” (“Breezeblocks”) or even shapes (“Tesselate”). Alt-J isn’t the next Radiohead, they’re the next Alt-J.

18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

The dooming, slow bass lead into “Wave Goodbye” followed by the flood of guitar distortion and a 60s pop vocal melody epitomizes Ty Segall. “Slaughterhouse” was one of three records Segall put out this year. Each one was great for their own reasons, but” Slaughterhouse” found Segall in his best stride. Beneath the layers of fuzz distortion are exceptionally melodic guitar lines. It’s as if The Beatles decided after they wrote “Helter Skelter” that they should go further and darker in that direction.

17. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Majellan

I must confess, I’ve never really been a big fan of Dirty Projectors. Most of their previous work has come off to me as pretentious and inaccessible. Coming in to “Swing Lo Majellan” I was expecting to feel the same, but wanted to give them one last shot – that was a good idea. This record finds the band toning back a bit on the overly complex song-structure and harmonic intricacies while retaining what makes them unique. “Gun Has No Trigger” and “About To Die” lean toward the grandiose spectrum of Dirty Projectors where songs like the title track and “Impregnable Question.” The fact that “Unto Caesar” features the band laughing as they try to figure out when to bring in the harmonies gives the feeling that the band is learning to let loose a bit.

16. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man On Earth) has developed a definitive style, one that is hard to deviate from much. Instead of changing his songwriting approach on “There’s No Leaving Now,” Matsson mixes things up with the production. His past two albums have felt like creaky, old solo recordings. The new record feels like a relic from a dusty record bin. The inclusion of faintly mixed electric guitar on the tracks gives a warmth to the album. “Revelation Blues” could be a b-side to an unknown Sun Records artist and “1904” sounds like a long lost A.M. radio gem.

15. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions

“Mixed Emotions” must have escaped from a break in the space-time continuum (or maybe a Hot Tub Time Machine). Tanlines could be quiet at home with 1980s contemporaries like Tears For Fears and Simple Minds. “Mixed Emotions” is full of synth-based anthems contemplating a possible mid-life crisis. Opener “Brothers” is deliberate with execution with a swaying beat. Eric Emm’s voice sounds like it could break out into “Melt With You” at any moment. Guitars shimmer, electronic drums give their unearthly thumps, and there are even some tropical overtones. If the 80s had been more like this, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten such a bad rap.

14. Dan Deacon – America

How this album did not make a bigger impact in 2012 is beyond me. Dan Deacon’s “America” brought together electronic production with live orchestral instrumentation to create a poignant, self-aware album about, well, America. Deacon has described it in some ways as a protest record – specifically the masterful four movement USA suite at the end of the record. Songs like “Lots” are blown out in the vain of a Steve Albini record. “True Thrush” has a dream-pop vibes with rushing drums. The inclusion of real, acoustic drums gives this album punch. This album reminds us that Deacon is not just a musician, he is a composer.

13. Grimes – Visions

I wasn’t sure what to make of Grimes when “Visions” came out. Then I spent more time with it. This album captures feelings of meekness and desperation with massive production, which seems a bit contradicting at first. At the center of every track is a soft, wavering melody – everything else is just a gorgeous garnish building off of that core. “Genesis” is the perfect example of this. Beneath all of the swirling piano lines, bass thumps, and sporadic beats is the small framed Grimes saying “Oh heart, and then it falls, and then I fall, and then I know.” It’s simple, but meaningful.

12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The field recordings of chatter at the beginning of “Mladic,” the first track on “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend,” set an ominous tone for this bleak and tumultuous record. Soon after a violin rises in and bending guitar notes pop in and out as the song rises to its breaking point that won’t let up for the rest of the 20 minute track. Godspeed You! Black Emperor quietly released shrieking record while on tour, keeping up with their mentality of “this isn’t business, this is art and a statement.” Many bands have popped up trying the instrumental prog-chamber rock style since GY!BE’s last recorded 10 years ago. GY!BE unintentionally prove they still do it best, but that doesn’t seem to be their primary concern. Moreover, they’re proving that the same issues we lamented 10 years ago are still relevant today and there’s no excuse.

11. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

“Clear Moon” is an ethereal look at nature, monotony, and living through Phil Elverum’s (Mount Eerie) Walden-esque insight. At one moment Elverum might be channeling Nick Drake – picking out a delicate melody while quietly reminiscing (“Through The Trees Pt. 2”). The next thing you know, he’s turned into Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine – drowning his thoughts beneath a flood of looming guitar distortion (“Over Dark Water”). It is hard to pinpoint exactly how to classify this album with its variety noise and sounds. His narrative strings it all together – simple pondering and speculating of the world around him. It is simultaneously a call against unnatural living and doubt if that’s even possible. Elverum paints vivid pictures with his lyrics and uses the music only to texture them.