The Postal Service – “Such Great Heights”

Released: 1.21.03

Peak: Did not chart

Like lots of guys who wear glasses, Ben Gibbard seems fairly bright. So for years, after a casual, unengaging listen or two, I would set aside my Death Cab discs, certain that when I could spare the time they would reward me with some sensible lyrical payoff. Turns out that the singer’s Caucasoid breathiness and bookish manner had suckered me all along–Gibbard recycled the same excuses a girl has heard from way smarter (not to say hotter) guys, convoluted just artfully enough to feign thoughtfulness.

But there’s nothing like a beat to allow convolutions to substitute adequately for thoughtfulness. “Such Great Heights” does indeed wrench the language into some deformed balloon animals of expression: sacrificing idiom to meter (“did make us” for “made us”), imagining genitalia as divinely tooled “puzzle pieces,” and stating that Ben and his beloved have freckles “in” their eyes. Of course, “Such Great Heights” also has Jimmy Tamborello. A.k.a. Dntel layers pingety-pong blips over his thin, slappy electro and whirs a sublimated siren underneath with an élan the simplicity of which remained unmatched until six years later, when a wee, twee dweeb from Owatonna would cash in on the Postal Service sound.

Even more importantly, that Owl City kid one-upped Gibbard’s self-conscious awkwardness on “Fireflies” by appearing to come by it naturally. Whether you consider that am improvement, however, depends on whether you prefer innocence to artifice. Having heard Sam Beam mistake for sheer vacuous poetry (on Iron & Wine’s authorized cover version) what Gibbard himself voices in a charming, clumsy tumble, I’ll take the real fake. And for all his flaws, Gibbard does obligingly warn us not to listen so close. “Everything looks perfect from faraway,” he sings, and that’s a good thing to keep in mind if you want to enjoy his music.

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  • Craig B  On May 4, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    This is a song?! I thought it was just a commercial soundtrack. I have a feeling there’s a LOT of music out there that I only know in 30 second segments behind a sleek vehicle, both automotive and as an inducement to purchase.

  • usefulnoise  On May 4, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I bet you’re not alone either. I think you can almost assume these days that if a jingle sounds faintly “song-like,” it’s probably a licensed pop song.

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