Some albums are huge smashes right off the bat. Some aren't popular until years later. Some aren't popular ever (sorry Hanson, I hear your new album is actually good).
But a select few albums sell steadily for years, never to be reduced to a sale price or relegated to the bargain bin. Postal Service's Give Up is one of these albums.
Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello formed Postal Service in 2001, after Gibbard guested on a Dntel track. Though it has been called both Death Cab side project and indie supergroup, Postal Service is something different entirely.
The project developed as a long-distance collaboration via mail, giving the band its name. Tamborello began sending Gibbard CD-Rs of original electronic music in December 2001. Gibbard wrote lyrics and melodies to go over the beats, also adding some guitar, drums and keyboards with Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla. The result was an indie electro-pop phenomenon.
After its release on February 19, 2003, Give Up became the record industry's little-engine-that-could, eventually selling over 650,000 copies. I hate to burst your bubble if you thought you were the only Postal Service fan out there, but Give Up is Sub Pop's best-selling record since Nirvana's Bleach.
According to employee Steve Manley, B-Side Records on State St. sells a copy almost every day.
"Five or six a week over the past two years would be the average," he said. "It's a word-of-mouth hit that just keeps spreading."
Manley was initially surprised by the album's sales, which he says are very uncommon for a debut indie album.
"It's one of those freakish things that started out slow and gained momentum," he said.
Although he wouldn't call himself a fan (he prefers Death Cab for Cutie), Manley can see why sales have been so consistent. "It's catchy and it's sort of unique," he said.
Give Up has also been a strong seller at MadCity Music Exchange on Williamson St., although sales have "tapered off in the past six months," said Dave Zero, an employee who asked to be referred to by the name he uses as a WORT disc jockey.
"Most of our customers already own it by now," he explained. "It ends up being one of those albums that rarely come in used; everybody's been hanging onto it."
Zero himself didn't like Give Up at first, but warmed up to the album after a friend kept playing it for him. "It seeps in before you know it," he said. "You have the songs echoing in your head for weeks after hearing it."
Now he says he would recommend it, since fans of both electronica and pop music enjoy it.
"The beats are extremely good, the music programming is extremely good and there are also good pop songs underneath it," he said.
According to both employees, the album's audience has been college student-centered, but older fans have also bought copies.
"Old-school fans of pop music can see it's a really great album," Zero said. That accessibility has helped Give Up become a best seller. Zero says he has friends in record stores on both the East and West coast who have seen the same consistently good sales.
"About a year ago you couldn't go to a club or house party without hearing it," he said.
The funny thing is, Give Up was released on an independent label (Sub Pop) and was marketed mainly through word of mouth.
This word-of-mouth popularity reminded Zero of The White Stripes' early records. Manley likened it to Buena Vista Social Club and the first Norah Jones album, Come Away With Me.
Oddly enough, MySpace.com also played a role in Give Up's momentum. Over four million users downloaded the single "Such Great Heights" off of Sub Pop's MySpace account.
The song has since been covered by soft-spoken folkster Iron and Wine in a version that recently appeared in an M&Ms commercial. His cover was also used in the 2004 movie Garden State.
Unfortunately, popularity comes with a loss of street cred. Zero says the album is now "saturated."
"Hipsters aren't into it anymore," Zero said. "It's everywhere. You can hear it on MTV."
A plethora of Postal Service-influenced releases have also cropped up.
"A lot of people are trying to emulate what they did," Manley said. "That's going to happen anytime there's a left-field hit like that."
Even so, neither store will be kicking it off the shelves anytime soon.
"It's going to be one of our releases we always keep in stock," Zero said. "People will keep discovering it."
Manley doesn't think sales will drop off in the future.
"I don't see it really slowing down much," he said.
Although it's not expected, if you ever do see Give Up in the bargain bin, make sure to grab a copy.