Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard goes Postal, saving '80s pop one song at a time.

Can a good record become a great record because it reminds us of music so bad, it was good? The Postal Service, a Seattle-L.A. pen-pal project between Dntel's synth-popper Jimmy Tamborello and the sad-eyed man/boy of Seattle's Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard, answers that question with an earnest yes.

While Death Cab channels the gray-day depression lurking inside the heart of every good Northwesterner, Gibbard's upbeat alliance with Tamborello seems to allow the songwriter to open up and let in a little day(glo)light. Pairing hyperactive cycles of bleeps and whistles (think Pitfall II for Atari 2600) with Gibbard's polite daydreams of love and loss, the Postal Service's Sub Pop debut, Give Up, channels the (oft-maligned) butt-shaking ditz-charm of the early 1980s.

"We just wanted to make a fun, dancey pop record," Gibbard told WW last week by phone from Seattle. The pair only met face-to-face twice during the 10 months it took to write and produce Give Up, swapping tracks, as their name suggests, by mail.

Packed with Gibbard's plaintive vocals (backed by Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and Tattle Tale's Jen Wood) sprinkled like powdered sugar over Tamborello's innocent keyboards and tinny drum loops, these tracks crackle with an energy that transcends mere retro longing. Though the near-quaint tone of a few of Give Up's nostalgia-inducing songs may nauseate leg-warmer haters, anybody who ever silently mouthed Human League's "Don't You Want Me" should be charmed.

"All the things that really seem to move me are pop songs," Gibbard insists. "I'll take 'There She Goes' any day over a 10-minute, torrid instrumental track. What gives the 1980s its charm is that so new many tools--technology, MTV, videos--came in such a short period of time that nobody set any aesthetic criteria on how to use them. There was no good or bad; people were just excited that they had new tools to use."

Indeed, new technology is often a harbinger of musical advancement. Thank God that in 2001, Ben and Jimmy discovered the brave new world of the United States Postal Service. (Kelly Clarke).

The Postal Service plays Friday, May 2, at the Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. Cex and the Jealous Sound also appear. 10 pm. $8. 21+.

Passing Judgment
Verdicts on new music.

MADONNA: AMERICAN LIFE (Maverick/Warner Bros.)
Madonna always makes a tempting target for mockery, especially now she's gone all sensitive and singer-songwriterish. In some respects, American Life is a completely ridiculous album, chockablock with lame guitar playing, dumb-ass faux-military imagery, rapping Kris Kross wouldn't claim and self-obsessed musings from a rich wench. All true. At the same time, however, American Life is a towering work of twisted genius, ablaze with the white-hot majesty of one million supernovas. And you think I'm exaggerating. Over ingeniously spare and shifty tracks ginned up by French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai, the erstwhile Material Girl wallows in grand funk, not so much self-pity as self-hatred. The album purports to be an attack on the shallowness of American mass culture, and, hey, who better to comment, right? In fact, though, Am-Life is tortured auto-analysis by a middle-aged artist who can't articulate just what's wrong with her, but may die (or at least commit career suicide) trying. Glowering. Excessive. Silly. Stupid. Awesome. She is Madonna, after all. (Zach Dundas)

Pleasure Forever's new album is the rock-and-roll equivalent of the neighborhood genius who "keeps to himself" in his crumbling manse, surrounded by leather-bound tomes of sinister wisdom and cats named Xerxes and Forbidden Victory. The Portland trio's Larry Crane-recorded opus kindles drums, guitar and piano, simultaneously spare and decadent, while Andrew Rothbard holds forth with lyrics crossing pre-TV Ozzy with absinthe-saturated Baudelaire. Evil song titles like "Wicked Shivering Columbine," "Aeon Flame" and "This Is the Zodiac Speaking" signal that something Secret is happening here. And it is far too Heavy for you to know about. Even so, you may enjoy the visceral charge that comes of pretending you understand. (ZD)

Scheduled for release Tuesday, May 6.



Relentless apologies, too-informative confessionals, bumming a cigarette: Chan Marshall barely held it together over the course of Wednesday's two-but-seemed-like-four-hour-long set at the Roseland. With electric guitar and band support on those practically whispered, ever-tragic odes, she did pretty OK--which is to say, she completed them. As soon as the band walked off stage and Marshall approached the piano, trouble started. Frequently stopping midsong, Marshall spoke of job-hunting days in Portland, the previous night's show and her Xanax perscription, and kept asking, "Are you mad at me? Who's mad at me? Raise your hand if you're mad at me!" This was not stage fright, but self-indulgent madness at its worst. Many in the audience barked words of support, and then an increasing number just shouted for her to shut up and get on with it. Ms. Marshall's husky croon competed with the tromp of exiting feet. When it was over, relief ran through the crowd: We were happy Cat Power didn't completely implode before our eyes, and happier still she didn't emerge for an encore.


Karen O. of New York's super-hot and ultra-hyped Yeah Yeah Yeahs may be Cat Power's polar opposite--this is a woman who knows what show business is all about. Before an enraptured Meow Meow crowd last Thursday night, Mz. O. and the Ys skulked, slithered, wailed, growled, vamped and simmered. The band's hormonally enhanced hybrid of minimal blues-punk and smashing New Wave noise is about as sexy as indie rock can get...though, of course, with an album out Tuesday on Interscope, the fashion-spread-friendly New Yorkers are more accurately "post-indie." The Big Apple's "hot sound" appears to have evolved very little in, say, 25 years, but that's not Karen's problem.


"Loud, exciting and very energetic." These are Sasha's definitive words about the Avril Lavigne/Simple Plan/Gob lineup at Memorial Coliseum last Sunday. You should listen to her, because Sasha is 13 years old, and this show was for her, not for those dazed old critics (ahem) who wonder how the hell corporate pop-punk has managed to survive the dozen years since Green Day went major-label.

Sasha observes, "Avril wasn't as good as I thought she would be. I expected her to be more, like, into the audience. She seemed kind of bored, I dunno. Simple Plan was really exciting. And they have a really cute bass player."

Was Avril's condition ennui, or uncertainty? She did not seem a superstar owning her stage, but a small girl with an expressive voice who'd really rather just sit down and sing. After Simple Plan's show-stealing perkiness--they even choreograph their Pete Townshend jumps--her lack of showmanship was almost a relief.

But Simple Plan's bass player is really cute, and he can throw his pick in the air and catch it in his mouth. So even without much help from the headliner, the show managed to be loud, exciting and very energetic. Just ask Sasha.


Though we can't seem to get anyone to say so "officially," if Ye Olde Rumour Mille is to be believed (and when has it EVER been wrong?), age-old Old Town punk club Satyricon has been sold to the owners of Sandy Boulevard's Tonic Lounge. No word yet on whether this will mean changes for the venerable rock bar, which opened its doors in 1588, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.