Give Up: On fighting Your Affection for the Postal Service

The window of time when music can deeply affect someone's life is usually pretty short. Most people will forever cherish songs that reached them somewhere between their freshman year of high school and their junior year of whatever came after, in that period when most of us crystallize into something resembling adults. Diehard music fans are a special case, but still: Chances are you're never going to love any band as much as the band you loved most at 20.

I was 18 when the Postal Service's electro-emo experiment Give Up came out, and while it was never my favorite album, I did play it often. Many people did: Give Up is the second-best-selling record that venerable Seattle label Sub Pop has ever released, behind only Nirvana's debut. Its singles, like “Such Great Heights,” dominated rock radio, and soundtracked a large enough chunk of my first two years of college that I now blush when thinking about it. Judging by the bevy of writing about this year's reissue of the album, that's the case for many, who listen and can't help but be shuttled back to that person they were who loved the Postal Service, and find their current selves a little chagrined by the memory.

That will be a temporary feeling. Ten years is a decidedly awkward point from which to look back at a pop album: Trends tend to revolve in roughly 20-year cycles, and human lives evolve in ways that often make it easier to empathize with the distant past than the more recent. The Postal Service's sole album is probably near the nadir of its retrospective popularity, at least for one key demographic, and yet the duo that made it will still play two sold-out concerts at Berkeley's 8,500-capacity Greek Theatre this week. As time makes the glow of nostalgia even more rosy, Give Up may find an even larger audience.

It is hard to listen to Ben Gibbard's indulgent moaning and Jimmy Tamborello's bloopy beats without flushing a little at the thought of loving them enough to play on repeat. But hearing the album with all the distance we can manage, it's also hard not to be impressed — by the agile rhythms, by Gibbard's electric melodies, and by the bracing sense of ecstatic melancholy that courses through the Postal Service's best songs. That revelatory joy, merely at the burning intensity of one's feelings, happy or sad, is part of turning into an adult. Give Up succeeded at least in part because it ably captured that emotionalism for so many people. The album comforted and shaped those who heard it at the most impressible time of their musical lives, and it remains a part of who we are now — whether or not it pleases us to say so.

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