In February 2003, Death Cab for Cutie vocalist Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, who records electronic music under the name Dntel, released an album as the Postal Service called Give Up. For an electro-pop side project from two relatively unknown indie-rock musicians the album did surprisingly well, landing at number one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart and placing in the top 20 on the Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts—the single “We Will Become Silhouettes” even cracked the Hot 100. Despite the unexpected success, Gibbard and Tamborello insisted on treating their collaboration like the side project it was intended to be, and after some promotional touring behind Give Up they put it to bed; the long-awaited sequel to Give Up seems less likely to happen with every passing year.
In April 2007 a young musician from Owatonna, Minnesota, named Adam Young released an EP called Of June under the name Owl City through independent online distributor CD Baby. Bolstered by a robust fan base mobilized via Young’s social-networking presence, the EP reached number 15 on the Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and a follow-up LP, Maybe I’m Dreaming, hit number 13. Young’s music was a virtual clone of Give Up, down to his almost disturbingly accurate impression of Gibbard’s half-whispered vocals. At the time, though, it was easy to write off Young’s blatant ripoff as naive youthful enthusiasm—this kid wanted another Postal Service record so badly that he went ahead and wrote it himself and posted it to MySpace.