Alongside the likes of Four Tet, Caribou, and Mice Parade, California’s Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello to his parents) is renowned for being an artist who ‘bridges the gap’ between the cerebral electronics of ‘IDM’ and the DIY ethic of indie rock. In Tamborello’s case, this is partly due to the ‘indie icon’ status of many of his collaborators: Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on the Postal Service project, for example, and the likes of Conor Oberst, Grizzly Bear, and Jenny Lewis on his previous album, 2007’s 'Dumb Luck'.
Dntel’s latest, 'Aimlessness', is far less collaboration-heavy than 'Dumb Luck'; and, as a result, the overall sound of the album leans more towards being more purely electronic-based, without so much of the influence of outside genres that was provided by his harem of collaborators. This is quite interesting given that a similar heightened focus on overtly electronic facets could also be seen in the most recent albums of two of Tamborello’s ‘indie electronic’ contemporaries: Four Tet’s 'There is Love in You' and Caribou’s 'Swim'; but, where those two records focused on the emphasising of more club-friendly, house elements, 'Aimlessness's electronica tropes manifest themselves more as a continuation of the fascination with the heady sounds of glitch and ambient techno that can be heard in Dntel’s earliest instrumental work.
Much of the album is heavily indebted to the characteristic sounds of the 1990s output of labels like Warp Records and Planet Mu, where atmosphere and sonic adventure is prioritised over dancefloor accessibility – the pulsing ‘four-to-the-floor’ beat on the excellent third track ‘Still’, for example, serves more to create a sense of urgency and drama than it does to get feet tapping and bodies moving. The track ‘Jitters’, in particular, is very reminiscent of Aphex Twin in its successful combination of skittering, fast rhythms with the childlike innocence of its synth melodies. Unfortunately, I feel that the album does, ironically, occasionally suffer from a sense of aimlessness, as there are a couple of the tracks that begin promisingly but fail to really go anywhere as sufficiently interesting as is initially expected. ‘Puma’, for example, starts off very well with staccato keys complimented by sublime string samples in the background and the gradual introduction of interesting synth arpeggios, but unfortunately comes to outstay its welcome somewhat as it descends into something more emotionless and anonymous-sounding. Similarly, ‘Trudge’ begins with some pleasantly surprising live drum samples that – though admittedly used very effectively throughout the track – are regretfully not accompanied by anything as worthy of the listener’s attention.
This is only a minor issue, and there are nevertheless a number of high moments to counteract these disappointments: Geotic’s stunningly melancholic remix of ‘Jitters’, and the blissfully upbeat sound of ‘Santa Ana Winds’ in particular. This album is certainly one to listen to for any fan of Dntel’s previous work (particularly those who prefer his earliest output), and anyone after an album of electronic music that is openly influenced by, though not really building upon, the groundbreaking work of the likes of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and μ-Ziq.
Posted: Sun 8 July 2012