Faceoff: Owl City vs. The Postal Service

Owl City LivePostal Service Live







The time has come for the…wow, what the fuck would you even call this? Emo/Electronica Faceoff? So, one of these albums is far, far older than the other, but with all the recent comparison, I thought this faceoff would be appropriate. Owl City vs. The Postal Service. Minnesota vs. Washington. (That doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as Paris vs. Chicago, but we’ll work with it.)

Postal Service - Give UpLet’s start off with The Postal Service. They’re older, they get first dibs.

Even though this album came out in 2003, it’s still in heavy rotation for fans of this emo/EDM subculture and I really have to hand it to these guys…they brought EDM back to the mainstream. Back to radio and MTV. The collective works of electronic artist Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie frontman, Ben Gibbard, Give Up was and is really a revolutionary album for music. Combining elements of 80’s New Wave with futuristic intent makes this album something else entirely. It’s no wonder why their debut album at a total of ten tracks has three major hits including “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, “Such Great Heights”, and “We Will Become Silhouettes”. There is talk of a second album for these guys, but they admit it won’t be released any time during this decade. C’mon, they both have other projects. It really seems like this album was just some sort of…accident. A really, really well received accident. The Postal Service has this delightful mix of downtempo and upbeat tracks, but they have such a great buildup. Like the video below for “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”…starts off incredibly slow and quiet and before you know it you’re bobbing and singing along. And obviously, Ben Gibbard’s voice is simply heavenly. Dear god. And I love the backing vocals of Jenny Lewis and Jen Wood on this album (Mike Doughty would have a field day with that one). They add meaningful, relevant lyrics to electronic music. No longer is it all about ecstasy and bright lights. It can be about something more and here is some solid proof.

The Postal Service – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”

Owl City - Ocean EyesOnto Owl City. With three albums in the last four years, Adam Young (no relation, I promise) has certainly taken that previously mentioned emo/EDM subculture by force. He’s already peaked to #1 on the Billboard Top 100 with his massive hit “Fireflies”. Owl City’s got a far more upbeat sound. I mean, shit, it gets up to borderline happy hardcore/gabber on a few tracks there. While still influenced by 80’s synthpop, Owl City also delves into parts of disco, J-Pop, and early European EDM. After releasing two independent, unsigned albums, Owl City finally hit it big with Ocean Eyes, released in July. Young’s lyrics are a little…juvenile…from time to time though. There’s really not a whole lot of substance. He likes talking about the ocean (PUGET SOUND, holla!) and sea creatures (and apparently oral hygiene), which is cool, but it doesn’t quite fill and entire album. Check him out.

Owl City – “Hello Seattle”

Where you can really see the difference between the two is live performance. I really dug Owl City (and still do enjoy the album) until I heard him without all that vocal distortion.

Owl City – Fireflies (Live)

See? He sounds like he’s thirteen. It’s amazing what all those electronics can really do to a voice. On the other hand, the guy uses KORG, so I gotta show some respect for that.

But then, you have The Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard performing live…

Ben Gibbard – “We Will Become Silhouettes” (Live)

The Postal Service FTW!I think Owl City will have their fifteen minutes of fame and perhaps a cult following of thirteen year old girls from what I’ve seen around these intertubes, but The Postal Service has real staying power. (See: Death Cab For Cutie.) Ben Gibbard sure knows what he’s doing. I mean, if Adam Young gets a little more substance, he may have a fighting chance, but I think it’s safe to say that he’s lost this battle. If he steps it up, he may win the war.


28 thoughts on “Faceoff: Owl City vs. The Postal Service

  1. Thanks for the very insightful article, we all could take advantage of far more personal blogs such as this on the net. Is it possible to elaborate a little more about your second paragraph please? I’m a small bit mixed up as well as undecided whether or not I realize your point entirely. Thank you so much.

  2. Hey guys, what a great discussion. I just wanted to put in my own thoughts on the faceoff. I myself have indulged into electronic/pop music. I chose this direction due to the uncertainty of being in a band. There’s always risks and many times I got burned :(. I think people are rather harsh on owl city, especially more artistic coffeehouse type people. I am also one of those people. But I think that what Adam Young did was an amazing display of creativity. I’ve just figured out ableton live, a popular program amongst djs, and electronic musicians, and it actually takes talent. You can’t be dumb musically and make electronic music. It takes skill and a lot of guts. Tube amps don’t crash, computers do. I do agree Owl City’s lyrics are rather lazy. I am guilty of that too. But I also write more about things that are real then Adam Young does. But if you look at it from a different perspective, what he did was perfect. The marketing was perfect, he obviously isn’t playing to artistic snobs, and metalheads. I’m not I could care less about playing to a bunch of sweaty guys. There have been many similar sounding metal bands, power pop bands, and of course the countless rap/ hip hop artists. I think the whole poastal service/owl city comparison is a double standard.

  3. It’s a shame seemingly nobody on this blog appears to understand what the term ’emo’ means and uses it liberally without having a clue what they’re talking about.

    Owl City pretty much rip off TPS; they’re enjoyable in small doses, sure, and very pleasant for the ears, but in terms of artistic merit there’s absolutely no competition.

  4. I think Adam still sounds good. I like his music, no matter what people think. I think people just need to quit with the whining about him, and just get over it. His music makes me smile, and idc if that sounds gay. He’s witty with his lyrics, and they almost always have a hidden meaning.

  5. I was just surfing the web when I stumbled upon this page. The tittle cought my attention straight from the beggining. I honestly feel that both music acts, Owl City and The Postal Service, are a great source of enjoyment for those who appreciate music.

    Im a musician myself and have been idolizing The Postal Service for a while now, and with Owl City’s “Ocean Eyes” and “Maybe Im Dreaming”, I have to say, it takes something “real” to influence a persons dinamic on music, wich is exactly what both acts have done.

    Where Adam Youngs lyrics lack in what is meaning, I realy feel he makes it up in witty humor. His lyrical phrasings are different, in a good way, from a lot of music I hear now. Granted without the effects on his voice the sound can be a little off, but I went to Owl City’s October 22nd show at the House of Blues in Aneheim, and I have to say that concert was more than noticing flaws. I looked up at the stage and you can see in there presence that they enjoy what they do, and thats all that realy matters.

    With that said, I have to also add the keyboardist of Owl city (sorry I don’t know her name) has had one of the best stage presences Ive seen. Her smile, her dancing realy brought the show alive.

    1. Excellent! I’m really glad they did a great live show, it’s always nice to see people who enjoy doing what they do. They really do have some potential, but without at least some substance, I can’t see them being more that a one (or two or three) hit wonder. Yeah, that catchy, witty song will get you interested, but what is there to keep you around, ya know? Cheesy lyrics can be fun for a track or two, but as a whole album, it gets a little redundant.

  6. I normally hate it when people are picky about what a genre means, however saying that Ben Gibbard is in the “emo” genre and that Dntel’s music is EDM (which is way off, his music is not meant to be danced to) is moderately ignorant for a music reviewer. I do agree that there is little comparison though, Owl City does not contain Dntel’s many and beautiful sonic layerings, nor does it have Ben Gibbard’s poetic lyrics.

    1. I believe I referred to everyone in that blog as “emo/EDM”. I didn’t specify who was where, just the sound. And it doesn’t really matter if Dntel INTENDED people to dance…it still makes me wanna get my groove on. And it’s still electronically inspired music.

  7. In my opinion i disagree i like Owl City. and Postal Service’s music is great and Ben’s voice is great (for death cab for cutie). But i do not like how the vocals are arranged and don’t go with some of the Postal Services songs. I do like most of what you said in this blog. Owl City will have to step it up to stay in today’s music industry. Nice blogs

  8. Well, Postal Service reminds me of my days on tour and living at Radar’s dorm up by the Peterson Event Center. Owl City is new and fresh (to me) so one is heavy with memories and wild youth and the other just hit me 5 minutes ago while being 25 and living in Miami Beach. Aside from that personal stuff that no one lived but me I have some technical thoughts…

    I believe I am going to need to hear more of Owl City. They definitely get props for using classical orchestra instruments in the second video, and hell they get props for the first video too. Getting up on stage and relying on hard drives to work is becoming more and more popular and takes balls. On a weekly basis I see someone in Miami have the worst performing night of their life as they have technical issues with similar set up’s (bands, DJ’s, live electronica…). I know Adam thought I was cursed with bad luck with technical difficulties with my DJ’ing but really it’s just that us live performers are on the razor sharp edge of an innovative and technological time in which we want to use the latest gear yet there are still kinks in it. I never felt so good about technical issues until I moved to Miami and saw it wasn’t just me. Anyways it takes guts when it comes to midi-computer set-ups in a not so friendly environment like clubs (liquids, smoke, dust, dirt, the general beating gear takes while touring).

    I must say that the lead singer of Owl City sounded young (had that classic passive-emo sound) in his voice in both videos. I was surprised the effects on his voice in the first video made that much of a difference to you, Amanda. Although it could just be that I am desensitized that that kind of stuff (able to analyze, understand what they are doing/using and even see through it) due to working a lot in the studio recently myself. Not to imply that the effects were trivial (they sounded cool and fit the kind of music, mood and video of clouds behind them wonderfully) and that just anybody should see through them or even that your comment was. In fact, that’s what effect are their for. It’s just me being a production jerk and understanding what was what from a different side of things.

    Nevertheless this was a really good post. I think I like both. Sure Owl City is obviously the second comer to the pioneers of that creative emo-electronica sound but they sounded cool and make me wanna burn one down while watching clouds and the waves on the beach, while listening to them on some really good headphones. In fact, I think I will!

    Good job Amanda! You should check out a girl up in Canada doing a similar sound. She goes by “Lights”. I’ve only heard a song or 2, but similar emo-bubble synth sound.

    1. Oh dude! Owl City and Lights are touring together next year! W000 Canada.
      Check that shit out.

      Definitely check out more Owl City. Check out “The Saltwater Room” and “Umbrella Beach”. They’re heavier tracks for him, but that’s where he really excels. I’d say that that’s the one leg up that he has on TPS…it’s heavier beats and easier to dance to, but it lacks substance.

      Ya know, I just get tired of hearing the same bubblegum beats with the same old sounds and talking about candy and ecstasy…
      (Who EVER thought that would come out of my mouth!?) It’s just nice to see electronic music going in a new direction.

      As for the Owl City vocals thing…it just gets me that he’s making music with mediocre vocal talent and being compared to Ben Gibbert, who has an amazing voice whether he’s plugged OR acoustic.

      Hey, stay tuned for a review on Go Periscope. Very clubby, David Guetta type shit. Perhaps even a little Daft Punk influence.

  9. I’ve only heard one song by Owl City. Fireflies, the one that’s on the radio. When I heard it I was absolutely convinced that it was a new Death Cab song. In fact, when I heard the band name, I was about half convinced this as another situation where the dude from Postal Service just sort of started a random new band.

    So I enjoy the song I heard by Owl City quite a it, b/c I enjoy Postal Service and Death Cab, but they just sound like a copycat band to me so I just can’t give them much credit.

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