Thursday, July 30, 2009

Early Works For Me If It Works For You II - Dntel

Early Works for Me if it Works for You II

Phthalo/Plug Research.

SCQ Rating: 74%

Life is Full of Possibilities was an important record of its time and for its listeners. Coveted by electronica fans and celebrated by indie-followers, the disc was both an underground sensation as well as a curious prologue to Jimmy Tamborello’s later fame in the Postal Service. By the grace of the music gods, Life is Full of Possibilities was pushed further from knowledge despite Tamborello’s mainstream attention, where it has flourished as the late-night, laptopia recording that birthed a gorgeous fusion later slandered ‘indie-tronica’. After Give Up’s worldwide jaunt and Dntel’s star-studded Dumb Luck, it seemed this small masterpiece would sit in limbo between his earlier, unavailable releases and his popular recent work. Earlier this year, however, Phthalo Records thankfully shed light on Tamborello’s cloudy origins with this triple-disc collection of Dntel’s first two previously out of print albums, as well as the unreleased groundwork that would one day form the landmark Life is Full of Possibilities.

Although Something Always Goes Wrong was released two years after Early Works For Me If It Works For You, it is audibly Dntel’s debut. Signs arrive early on ‘In Which Our Hero Finds a Faithful Sidekick’; a sleek track of now-predictable big-beat electronica that would’ve absolutely destroyed me back in 1994. ‘In Which Our Hero is Decapitated By the Evil King’ plays the same heavy-handed cards but in reverse, as the dark moodiness of ‘… Faithful Sidekick’ is now an ascending melody of epic proportions, tossed liberally with where-were-you rave-synths. Oh and about that decapitation thing, don’t bother: the real story to Something Always Goes Wrong is finding those early tracks where Tamborello gets it right. The accomplished soundscapes boasted on ‘In Which Our Hero Begins His Long and Arduous Quest’ and some generous atmospheres on the dreamy and well-titled ‘In Which Our Hero Falls Under a Spell’ make apparent that Tamborello was well on his way to perfecting his cerebral sense of space, that innocent use of melody. Whether Something Always Goes Wrong bears its amateur tags or not is pretty irrelevant considering electronic music has progressed fifteen years since this EP’s initial release, so it’s better ventured as a curiosity, not a contender.

Listening to Something Always Goes Wrong as Dntel’s first breath is the authentic story after all, recorded first but shelved for almost six years - Early Works For Me If It Works For You, Dntel’s first official release, arrived in the meantime - after an initial label deal collapsed. And it’s a sizeable advantage for those of us who came to the party late, since early Dntel fans who followed closely were the ones who incidentally heard these releases in the backwards order. In any case, the mix-up is a blessing for this package, which displays Tamborello’s talents sprouting on the second disc. From opener ‘Loneliness is Having No One To Miss’, which bounces with complex beat programming to the faraway layers of ‘Fort Instructions’, Early Works For Me If It Works For You is instilled with a graduate’s level of technical proficiency. While slower meditations like ‘Curtains’, with its plodding percussive gears, and the airborne helium-bubbles of ‘High Horses Theme’ interest me the most, I can’t ignore this record’s obvious Aphex Twin influence. ‘Danny Loves Experimental Electronics’, ‘Pliesex Sielking’ (god, in name alone) and many other tracks are indebted to Richard D. James’ gawking compositions, and while their disorienting nature fails to compliment Tamborello’s instincts, he plays the patsy with unflinching dedication. Hell, he even concocts a hybrid formula for both styles with ‘Sky Pointing’ and ‘Casuals’; looping Richard D.-inspired beats and quixotic, dreamy keys, Dntel convincingly morphs into Aphex Twin-lite… something that, even today, I’d wager there’s a decent market for.

This triple-disc bundle is a quantifiably rare listening experience, no surprise there. Yet what justifies some spotty, out-of-print albums and a demo-disc as worthwhile endeavors is how they grow into each other; with Something Always Goes Wrong, we had an undisciplined talent, with Early Works For Me…, a confident, nuanced voice in electronic music, and on Early Works For Me If It Works For You II, a collection of demos from 1998 through 2003, a composer toying with new instruments and subtleties. One of these instruments is indeed Tamborello’s voice, which wouldn’t officially appear until 2007’s Dumb Luck. So for Dntel fans and completists, this is a treasure trove of lost gems and a humble beeline through the man’s Phthalo years. Early Works For Me If It Works For You II may not be essential listening, but it’s enjoyable research nonetheless.

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