Jimmy Tamborello is a pretty busy dude. In addition to playing part in one of only two Sub Pop releases to go gold, The Postal Service’s Give Up, he’s released records as Headset and James Figurine, in addition to doing production work for Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes, not to mention remixes for Feist, Grizzly Bear and Lali Puna. Given such an impressive output in the past couple years, it comes as something of a shock that Tamborello’s last solo record as Dntel came out six years ago. In fact, it was that very album, Life is Full of Possibilities that made us care about Tamborello in the first place. Displaying a quirky, static-washed electronic shoegazer sound, Life was one of the most organic sounding electronic records of the decade, as the songs sounded as if they had lives of their own.
In the time spent between that record and Dntel’s long-awaited sophomore release, Dumb Luck, Tamborello has made a few friends and had a chance to experiment with varied styles. With his hip-hop tendencies put aside for the moment, Tamborello shares his record with an impressive cast of guest musicians, the only notable absence being Tamborello’s Postal Service right hand man, Ben Gibbard. Yet the musicians here—Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste to name a few—more than make up for the Gibb sitting this one out.
Tamborello treads familiar ground on Dumb Luck, even the album cover’s image of a firehose recalling the mini ambulance adorning Life is Full of Possibilities. Yet, given how little of this sort of thing the Angeleno has provided listeners in recent years, it’s a welcome return to a comforting and curiously graceful sound. All of Dntel’s compositions are built upon weird glonks and squeaks, buzzes and bleeps, hisses and crackles. Somehow this merger of IDM, video game quirkiness and My Bloody Valentine-like soundscapes becomes an impressive, albeit subtle force on the whole, never overtly dance-oriented or glitchy and difficult.
Before the guests on Dumb Luck are given their due, Tamborello steps behind the mic on the sweetly anthemic title track, which builds into a noisy symphony, vaguely reminiscent of Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space.” Ed Droste’s contribution on “To a Fault” is an immediate highlight, a track which captures the atmospheric enormity of Grizzly Bear, with the addition of some Books-like acoustic sampling. Jenny Lewis’s performance on “Roll On” is also quite wonderful, its acoustic folksiness resembling one of her solo tracks, albeit with added drum programming. Though not quite as immediately ear-catching in name, Arthur & Yu are, nonetheless, part of one of the most accessible, even somewhat danceable tracks, in “The Distance,” which can hold its own against tracks featuring some of the bigger name indie heroes.
Of the bigger names, Conor Oberst is certainly the biggest, lending his gentle vocals to the woozy, hungover “Breakfast in Bed,” an oddly pretty track, not nearly as wordy as much of Oberst’s own songs. Still, it has an emotional, folk-inspired quality, much like any Bright Eyes track, revealing the beauty of the collaboration. Dumb Luck is a Dntel album in name, and has a warm, electronic sound that can only come from Mr. Tamborello, yet leaves no guest appearance wasted. This is the rare album that utilizes the best of each contributor, without compromising any of its vision.
Dntel – Life is Full of Possibilities
Lali Puna – Faking the Books
The Books – The Lemon of Pink
MP3: “Dumb Luck”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.