For a certain population of electronic-music listeners, Jimmy Tamborello's 2001 album as Dntel, Life Is Full of Possibilities, is a seminal record. In the over 10 years that have passed since its release, Tamborello has taken on a variety of forms, hitting on some unpredictably huge successes (mainly, as the production force behind the adored Postal Service), as well as delivering a few lukewarm releases under his Dntel and James Figurine monikers. Through it all though, the producer has never appeared insincere—for better or worse, each record has sounded like Tamborello, touched by his keen sense for melancholy and an ability to conjure up gorgeously emotive sounds. On Aimlessness, Tamborello continues in this vein, revealing a record that is nowhere near as monumental as Life Is Full of Possibilities, but nonetheless shows a producer who has gracefully matured, and is able to fit into the context of the ever-evolving electronic music scene without compromising his musical personality in the process.
The Dntel name has never really been one associated directly to dance music. Granted, boiled down to their simplest form, his songs are essentially techno, but the kind of techno that is more focused on the listening experience than the club experience and—especially by today's standards—is heavily populated by melodic elements. This LP is no different, as it runs through ambient textures, controlled four-on-the-floor, and light skitters with the constant presence of floating melodies. Fortunately, Tamborello's melodic concoctions are usually at least tasteful, if not infectiously alluring. Tracks like "Jitters" and the closing "Paper Landscape" appear along the lines of classic Dntel fare—gliding synths meet with crisp runs of bell-like sounds or rich pad accompaniments, making for pleasantly heartfelt processions.
There are some genuine highlights to be found on Aimlessness: the aforementioned ambient closer "Paper Landscape," the surprisingly DJ Koze-reminiscent "My Orphaned Son" (which also happens to feature a nice layering of Tamborello's own voice), and the unexpectedly jazzy/Kraut-indebted "Trudge" are especially strong, while Will Wiesenfeld (a.k.a. Baths, operating here under his Geotic handle) morphs "Jitters" into a heavy-handed yet spell-bindingly blissful beat which accounts for the record's most repeatable listen. Still, the rest of the LP may take its title a bit too seriously, presenting songs that are pleasant enough with their spiralling melodies and detailed production, but in the end seem to move in no tangible direction of interest. In particular, two songs which feature guest vocalists—Will Wiesenfeld again serves as a collaborator, this time contributing vocals to "Still," while Nite Jewel's floaty voice piles upon itself for "Santa Ana Winds"—stick out as the biggest missteps, possibly because the vocal contributions actually replace Dntel's usual melodic content and ultimately sound a bit out of place in the context of the record's flow.
Despite its hiccups along the way, Aimlessness still leaves the listener with a warm feeling upon its completion, an effect no doubt made real by Tamborello's dedication to heartfelt, melodic compositions. With a bit of playfulness, and the absorption of new musical influences over the past few years, Dntel's latest LP is a far more rewarding listen than the last full-length to bear his name (2007's Dumb Luck), and although it may not represent a complete return to form, it's still a welcome stop on a production career that appears to have a lot of life left in it.
Read our recent interview with Jimmy Tamborello here.