There's no doubt about it: the opening song on this record, "The District Sleeps Tonight," is, in its first two minutes, the kind of song that mushes your heart like a meat tenderizer. If you were as excited about this record as some of us were -- because an alliance between Dntel's Jimmy Tambrello and Death Cab for Cutie's frontman Ben Gibbard is the indie-rock equivalent of Madonna working with the Neptunes -- then those first few minutes drizzle through your bloodstream like emo crack. But something horrible happens at the two-and-a-half-minute mark: a four-on-the-floor beat drops in and what was a perfectly heartwarming tune, full of skittering, plucked strings and a frumpy beat, suddenly morphs into a giddy dance track. If you're sitting at home with the candles lit awaiting indie transcendence, you just got disappointed. If, however, you're driving across the Bay Bridge with a bunch of mates and the volume's cranked up as Gibbard wails out the chorus and Tambrello's pulling a John Digweed, then Give Up just became your new favorite record.
The world was first introduced to the magic of this duo on the track "(This Is) the Dream Life of Evan and Chan" on Dntel's debut album, Life Is Full of Possibilities. On that track, Gibbard's strained yelp and Tambrello's caffeinated beats and glitches came together like porn stars. When the duo announced that they were releasing an entire record of material in the same vein, indie rockers almost wet themselves.
But the album misses the high-water mark set by "Evan and Chan." It sounds as if it was recorded by dudes who just discovered these new cool things called drum machines. Indeed, four-on-the-floor beats are addictive and if you've ever been to the music store, laid down a couple of THUMP THUMP THUMPS on the floor model, and then danced around like a leprechaun thinking to yourself, "Fuck customer service, I'm gonna become a DJ," then you know this is true. Unless you're on Ecstasy, that shit gets old, and Tambrello -- who's been around the block -- should know better. But while it's neither Fat Boy Slim nor Death Cab for Cutie, there's a playful electro-pop simplicity to the tunes that make them pretty irresistible if you're in the right mood, i.e. driving a Volkswagen with a bunch of friends, all of you imagining that this snappy-catchy pop confection was whipped up just for you.