We’re still trying to forget that time last year when Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, and Jenny Lewis hoodwinked us into thinking we’d get a Postal Service reunion, only to try and to get us to vote. And while it doesn’t look like there’ll be a follow-up to Give Up anytime soon, Gibbard is giving us the closest thing to a Postal Service revival with his new collaborative track with Tycho, “Only Love.” It might sound like an unexpected pairing, but the musicians worked together years ago, when Gibbard reached out to Tycho to remix “The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive” off his band’s 2015 album, Kintsugi. It’s been nearly two decades since the Death Cab For Cutie frontman dipped his feet into electronic-driven music, and “Only Love” sounds close to what we’d imagine a Postal Service song would sound like in 2021, but poppier.
Because he’s so associated with the “sad boy” persona of yesteryear, it’s easy to forget that when Gibbard delves into the electronic-pop realm, his velvety voice is perfect for the genre. It blends seamlessly with synths—so much so, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Gibbard to bring dreamy beats into his music again. This is one of two collaborations he’s in that have been announced this week, with his vocals also appearing on Lala Lala’s upcoming record, I Want The Door To Open. (Although that track, “Plates,” features synths as well, it’s miles away from what we hear in this Tycho song.) We could get used to Gibbard entering a new era of collaborations, allowing him the freedom of exploration without alienating Death Cab fans.
But while its electronic arrangements sound like The Postal Service, the beat hearkens back to Death Cab’s “I Will Possess Your Heart.” That similarity isn’t a coincidence: The instrumentals are all Tycho, but as the musician, whose real name is Scott Hansen, explains in a press release, “Ben’s voice was a very inspiring element to work with from a production standpoint, I felt it really meshed well with the kinds of sounds and instrumentation I gravitate towards. ‘Only Love’ started life as an instrumental, but something was missing. I sent a rough demo to Ben and he recorded some vocals over it. The first time I heard the rough vocals the whole song suddenly made sense and the arrangement flowed out of that.”
Musically, it results in a track that comes across a bit like the Narrow Stairs era of Death Cab mixed with The Postal Service. The lyrics, however, are far different from the lovelorn topics Gibbard focused on during that time. Instead, Gibbard takes inspiration from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. “I came across a quote from Montanan goat rancher and environmentalist Alexis Bonogofsky that moved me immensely,” says Gibbard in the press release. “Speaking about the fight to protect public lands in southeastern Montana from the mining company Arch Coal, she said: ‘(The) connection to this place and the love people have for it, that’s what Arch Coal doesn’t get. They underestimate that. They don’t understand it so they disregard it. And that’s what in the end will save that place. It’s not the hatred for the coal companies or anger, but love will save this place.’”
Listen to “Only Love,” released via Mom + Pop/Ninja Tune, below.