Jimmy Tamborello’s stock has been rising consistently since he and Ben Gibbard, collectively the Postal Service, released Give Up in 2003. So it makes sense that some effort is being put into revealing the roots to that collaboration. And considering the tougher sell of Tamborello’s work as Dntel, the futuristically structured trio Figurine — a long-distance collaboration between Tamborello, guised as Jimmy Figurine, and Meredith and David Figurine — emerges as the Postal Service’s closer kin.
The Heartfelt, the band’s second album, was originally released by Monika Records to a pre-9/11 America, a little more than a year before the Postal Service’s debut. Although vocalists Jimmy and Meredith don’t realistically compare to the Herculean duo of Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis, Figurine presents a vocal approach from a different angle. As the two trade predictably phrased verses about space travel, technology and love, the two harmonize in a robotic — and slightly accented — deadpan. Paired with the trio’s stiff, occasionally turgid beats, the music evokes a feeling of distance between the performers and their audience.
Matching anything Gibbard could ever matter-of-factly cry up, The Heartfelt‘s emotion is masked in coldness, causing an aversion and strange attraction to the uncomfortably familiar sentiments. On “Rewind,” Jimmy’s verses feel otherworldly until Meredith sings the ever-relatable relationship-as-videotape metaphor through the chorus: “If we could rewind all that’s happened/ I’d still make all the same mistakes/ I’ve tried my hardest since we started/ I’d do the same if we replayed the tape.”
Vocals aren’t the extent of the Postal Service parallels. “IMpossible” is the club-going older brother to “The District Sleeps Alone.” Both sport almost the same chord progression, but the Figurine track drops its dance beat near the beginning. The sweeping drama of “District” is lost and replaced with the pleasure-seeking appeal of “Such Great Heights,” a maneuver also accomplished on Figurine’s heavy-handed “Way Too Good.”
Whereas Gibbard’s organic-feeling guitar work drew listeners in on Give Up, ambient Eno-isms that echo through the background of such songs as “The Stranger” alongside Tamborello’s inescapable bleeps and bloops are The Heartfelt‘s attracting mechanism. The would-be abstract songwriting materials are harnessed into accessible pop structures most similar to the dance-floor anthems of Mouse on Mars.
It’s doubtful that Figurine will ever grace commercials for upcoming ABC television shows, but The Heartfelt is no less mainstream-ready than Give Up was when its success planted a healthy surprise on the indie music world. The Heartfelt‘s hang-ups — the distant vocals and tougher-to-grasp beats — make for a compelling listen, but it’s a listen that will most likely be followed by another two hundred spins of the Postal Service.