Side projects allow musicians to show off talents that go unused in their day jobs -- it's no surprise that they sometimes reek of self-indulgence. The refreshing thing about the Postal Service is that Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello don't subject you to any hidden strengths. Gibbard, who fronts Death Cab for Cutie, still waxes mopey over past relationships, and Tamborello, of Dntel, provides coy, catchy beat happenings. In combination, though, they both gain something. The cheery, danceable music on their debut, Give Up, brings out a more spontaneous, less obtuse side of Gibbard's musings, whereas Tamborello benefits from Gibbard's braininess.
Though Gibbard and Tamborello composed Give Up on tapes shipped by snail mail, they sound remarkably in sync with each other's ideas, as when the burbling euphoria of "Such Great Heights" brings out Gibbard's goofiest teenage-crush lyrics ever. The guest vocals from Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and Tree Records mainstay Jen Wood (most notably on the anti-emo breakup duet "Nothing Better") add beauty and imperfection, making the record even warmer and full-sounding. The fact that Gibbard and Tamborello met in person for the first time just before this tour augments the Married by America-ish curiosity factor. What's more important, though, is that the pair have created the first electro-emo record not to suffocate under 50 tons of twee.