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Death Cab's Gibbard, Dntel's Tamborello Form Postal Service

You can thank the U.S. Postal Service for the upcoming collaborative effort between Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, the brainy electronica music-maker also known as Dntel. The twosome's debut album, Give Up, due from Sub Pop Feb. 18, is the result of 10 months of musical swapping via good ol' snail mail. "It was really great to get a little package every month or two," Gibbard was quoted in a Sub Pop press release.

The duo, aptly calling itself The Postal Service, began bouncing ideas between Tamborello's home in Los Angeles and Gibbard's in Seattle in December of 2001. Gibbard first met Tamborello while paying a visit to Tamborello's roommate, Jealous Sound guitarist Pedro Benito (Gibbard and Benito had become friends when their bands toured together).

Gibbard and Tamborello had previously collaborated when Tamborello (also known for his work with Figurine and Strictly Ballroom) asked Gibbard if he'd add vocals to "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," which subsequently appeared on Dntel's 2001 longplayer Life Is Full of Possibilities. "It seemed kind of effortless," Tamborello said. "He came down and sang it once and we were just really happy with it."

The positive experience they had on "Evan and Chan" prompted the two to start the Postal Service project. In late 2001, Tamborello began sending Gibbard CD-ROMs of his bass-heavy, layered electronic music. In addition to his distinctive, heartfelt vocals, Gibbard also added guitar, drums and keyboard tracks to the mix with the help of Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla at his Hall of Justice studio. He also wrote the lyrics.

The 10-song album includes: "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," "Such Great Heights," "Sleeping In," "Nothing Better," "Recycled Air," "Clark Gable," "We Will Become Silhouettes," "This Place Is a Prison," "Brand New Colony" and "Natural Anthem."

Though born out of a songwriting process quite different from that used by Death Cab, the record — which also features vocal contributions from Rilo Kiley guitarist/vocalist Jenny Lewis and solo artist Jen Wood — sounds a bit like Death Cab Goes Electronic. "Some of the songs are very much of a Death Cab mode," Gibbard was quoted as saying in a Sub Pop press release. "But people have been commenting, 'Wow, the lyrics are really different.' When somebody is just handing you music and you're supposed to sing over the top of it, it feels different than when you're sitting at home with a guitar trying to write a song."

Gibbard said most of the songs are "just kind of daydreaming and coming up with ideas for songs that aren't necessarily based in reality.... It didn't feel right for all the songs to be breakup-type songs. They just felt more like the kind of songs that you would want to dance to, and you wouldn't want to have a lyric that's super heavy."

One of the songs, "Such Great Heights," was a first for the Death Cab frontman. "'Such Great Heights' is the first time I've ever written a positive love song, where it's a song about being in love and how it's rad, rather than having your heart broken."

The duo plan to tour in the spring, and hope to record more Postal Service albums in the future.

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tim hecker / radio amor / mille plateaux

Also known as Jetone, Canadian Tim Hecker comes at us with his second full-length under his own name. Far from a sonic assault,"Radio Amor" is more of a meditation on noisy texture and fractured melodies. Consisting mainly of what sounds like heavily processed field recordings and piano "Radio Amor" stutters its way through 50-minutes of frozen melodies and glowing nostalgia. Though the source material sounds old (radio perhaps), the compositional techniques and digital production imply an extremely recent vintage. While his editing sometimes seems forced, when he lets the roughness of the source material take over there are some extremely rewarding moments. Track five, "7000 Miles," stands out in particular as Hecker gives the piece a bit more space to develop. Not quite as satisfying as recent somewhat similar efforts by Fennesz or Mitchell Akiyama but a fine release none the less.


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mum / finally we are no one / fat cat

Mum's "Yesterday Was Dramatic" set a whole new standard for electronic music. Not by chance, the young Icelandic quartet expertly blended the world of digital with the world of analog. Amidst the Aphex-styled cut-up beats and bleeps, the album steered far from IDM's icy trappings, instead hovering above lush, green pastures -- warmly melodic and wonderfully organic. Two years later, these same descriptors can and will be used in describing Mum's follow-up, "Finally We Are No One." Their second proper album is, however, a further expansion upon the warmth and feeling of its predecessor. Continuing to draw upon a variety of sources, from programmed beats and synthesized washes to a more traditional assortment of instruments (including guitars, trumpet, accordion, glockenspiel and cello), "Finally We Are No One" is much more majestic in its approach. The digital element, though still very much a keystone, is subdued allowing the melodic elements more room to interlace and drift. (Production credits include Valgeir Siguresson, also noted as an engineer and programmer for Bjork's "Vespertine.") Starting with the slow building bell tones of "Sleep/Swim," a music box melody segues into the shimmering "Green Grass of Tunnel" with the hushed voice of Kristin Valtysdottir, hauntingly ethereal yet playfully childlike. (Her twin sister, Gyda, is the group's cellist.) Like a lucid dream, songs flow in and out of each other, but still remain distinct. Even the bedroom electronics of the almost instrumental "Don't Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed," remains graceful throughout its beeps and gurgled beats. Like "Yesterday Was Dramatic," Mum's new offering floats around otherworld lullabies and rich textures, always soothing and quiet. For this one however, Mum have completely surpassed the boundaries of electronica and created a record that is ultra-modern, incredibly organic and instantly a classic.

dntel / life is full of possibilities / plug research

Yet another pastoral techno offering for those cold wintry nights inside. Yet this record is a bit different than others in this rapidly-growing sub-genre of electronic music. Boasting guest vocals from Mia Doi Todd, Brian McMahan (Slint), Rachel Haden and others, DNTEL uses vocals as a textural tool within the songs. You'll hear time-stretched vocal distortions, manipulated acoustic guitar, and accordion combined with the pretty keyboard washes and clicky beats: the combination providing an icy tension that feels like a sudden gust of cold air to the face. I've waited for a while for someone to explore the dichotomy between organic and electronic extremes in a sophisticated way; that eventuality is here and it's worth the wait. If you've appreciated the melancholy of Boards of Canada, Lali Puna and the like, but want a little bitter mixed with the sweet, check this out. One of the best electronic albums I've heard this year.

jan jelinek / la nouvelle pauvrete / scape

Few artist have been able to feel equally comfortable in the realm of experimental sound, and that meant for dance-floor exploration; Jan Jelinek has successfully accomplished both. Drawing from his previous works as Farben and with "Computer Soup," Jelinek and his fictitious band the Exposures have fused both concepts into his latest endeavor "La Nouvelle Pauvrete," creating a beautifully balanced album that is as haunting as it is funky and peaceful. Dry, filtered micro-samples are melded with grainy, glitch rhythms, bringing to life songs that range from murky and somber, to minimal, mystic, bubbly bliss. While Jelinek's previous efforts were exercises based on black music, house or dub, he now supplements these with a segment of musical history new to his compositions -- classic white rock, pop and folk. Jelinek even lends his voice to the mixture, conceptually commenting on the influences of Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra, and Throbbing Gristle. If you believe in the works of Brinkmann and Delay, you must buy this record; you simply can't go wrong

tomas jirku / sequins / force inc

Jirku eschews the familiar (the only sounds you'll recognize here are one richocheting guitar fragment and a vocal snippet) on his second CD for a set of dense, decisive, oblique gestures. His work centers on that hypermodern concept, the fragment. Assembling fragments seems to be the only un-tapped-out method left for modern art, and Jirku's thwips and strains and fizzles all pronouncements for a cut -- not an edit is made without it's requisite 'thwap'. Jirku's music has beats, certainly, and they're jumpy and catchy, with the complex lightness and flexibility of carbon fiber rather than steel's clanky stiffness, with the sequential familiarity of throwing plastic dice over the surface of a boardgame. Definitely one to watch, and on an aesthetic par with Brinkmann, Delay, etc.--I think I even like this even more than those artists' recent work.