Friday, February 8, 2008

Dumb Luck - Dntel

Dumb Luck

Sub Pop Records

SCQ Rating: 68%

Postal Service. There. For all my avid web-murking in search of details to Dntel’s six-year-in-the-making sophomore album, there was no escaping the mention and subsequent comparison to Jimmy Tamborello’s more famous, Ben Gibbard-attached project. What Dumb Luck sounded like, whether the songs were worth listening to or not, seemed far less important than how the album was generally less upbeat, less dance-worthy, and therefore less interesting than that 2003 indietronic phenomenon, Give Up. And even though they’re spot on in their assessment that Dumb Luck is more contemplative, more concerned with deconstructing its song layers than making us want to make out with each other, these people are still morons because they’ve never listened to Life is Full of Possibilities.

While his near-perfect electronic-backing for The Postal Service is certainly his bread and butter, Jimmy Tamborello’s ambitions stretch beyond the average indie-dance DJ. As a constantly recording artist in no less than six acts, one would require a hefty rock to ignore his non-Postal contributions to the American electronic scene. His Plug-Research debut, Life is Full of Possibilities, remains a landmark IDM album, and a far more relevant model for comparison with Dumb Luck.

An immediate break from the past is announced in the opening song and title track, as the layers of noise are ushered in by the vocals of Tamborello himself. Modest yet appropriate, his voice tries to bridge the synthetic swellings and sudden acoustic retreats that never find their groove. The Lali Puna-assisted ‘I’d Like to Know’ also buzzes with promise, but spends the majority of its running time in the warm-up stage. Sadly, it’s a condition that reappears several times throughout the following eight star-studded songs; its layering up and tearing apart of sonic details approaches renders many of these songs flawed, despite some impressive moments abound.

Direction seems to be the key with this album, and luckily, Tamborello offers as many compelling jewels as unsure explorations. ‘To A Fault’ should’ve been where this album started; staccato guitar strums on pace with some sophisticated beats, keyboard flourishes and a far-off forest of vocals contributed by Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. ‘Roll On’ is further proof that Jenny Lewis’ songwriting ambition may be on cruise-control, yet she watches her back by sounding as enchanting as ever. Finally, Conor Oberst delivers ‘Breakfast in Bed’; the emotional punch of the album and a worthy second listen for anyone who swore they hated Bright Eyes the first time around. Possibly the best morning-after-a-one-night-stand song ever, Oberst coos gently as if his fling is still sleeping on the pillow next to him.

From there, Dumb Luck closes with ‘Dreams’, an instrumental which proves Jimmy can still carry the torch on his own. Due to some exciting contributions, the amount of hired help on this album doesn’t bother me. I’m more skeptical about how the album would’ve sounded (and if it had been finished at all) without them.

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