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Synth city 

Sad songs say so much this time of year. Throw in a nostalgic album or two and you’re laughing (through the tears, obviously).

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Nostalgia and love go hand in hand, so it's with extra feelings that we're rejoicing this week in the just-announced reunion of The Postal Service. Give Up, the 2003 collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello, was a surprise platinum record for Sub Pop (its best-selling after Bleach, ffs), an inescapable summer score that year and as far into late 2004, when Iron & Wine covered "Such Great Heights" on the Garden State soundtrack.

At the time, the melding of indie rock and electronic music was a bit of a revolution (alas), plus the duo's recording method—Tamborello would press on synths and make beats, Gibbard would write melodies and lyrics atop them, and they would mail versions back and forth, get it—made the band feel modern yet old-fashioned in a pre-smartphone time when people were feeling icky about the disposability of life. A decade later, the electronic elements sound completely contemporary—wonderfully devoid of macho dubsteppery—and outside of Death Cab's Transatlanticism, it's the emo high point of Gibbard's career. Beginning with the mournful synths of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," he cry-dances his way through to the closing clusterbeatfuck "Natural Anthem," his petulant final words—"So please don't be upset at this portrait that I paint/it may be a little biased but at least I spelled your name right"—antagonizing the happy BPM.

Eight of 10 are love songs, six of those tell of past or unrequited romance and one of the remaining two, "We Will Become Silhouettes," is set in a bomb shelter as the apocalypse looms. Its singular dizzy-in-love moment is "Such Great Heights," and depending on your perspective then (or this week), you find its opening statement either very poetic or monumentally lame: "I am thinking it's a sign that the freckles in our eyes/Are mirror images and when we kiss they're perfectly aligned."

So throw that away and you've got a really great wallowing record—it's called Give Up, you guys—that you can walk to or cry to, depending what you've got going on that day, cathartically screaming "I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving!" while doing the dishes or into the pile of unfolded laundry on your bed. In an unlikely twist of fate, Tegan & Sara's Heartthrob (note double meaning), was released in the same pop-culture cycle as the Postal Service's reunion announcement and has settled in as a modern companion record. When the single "Closer" was released last fall, the Quins' typically longing lyrics yelled alongside spazzy synths, there was much consternation about a seemingly transparent grab at pop's candy ring—Tamborello's production is a fucking ukulele, comparatively—but as it turns out, Heartthrob is a gloriously sincere throwback that could've come out in 1987 (and would've torpedoed the Tiffany/Debbie Gibson debate with one chorus).

Like Give Up, it pairs disparate elements to create something that's familiar yet new and, most importantly, really fucking sad. "Closer" is a straight-up lust jam, but the songs that follow recall The Con in their fallouts, fights, concessions and missed opportunities. The track list unheard warns what's coming: "Goodbye, Goodbye," "Now I'm All Messed Up," "I Was a Fool," "How Come You Don't Want Me." "Shock To Your System" is a mid-tempo, drum-rolling mourn that has an apologetic tone, but the line that closes the record—fuck apologies—is "What you are is lonely." 

Nostalgia and love, then and now: hand in (and out of) hand.

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Vol 24, No 27
December 1, 2016

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