Wednesday, August 24, 2011

After Parties I & II - Dntel

After Parties I & II

Sub Pop Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Whenever straightforward pop is abandoned, motives get questioned. In the case of beatsmith Jimmy Tamborello, who with Postal Service essentially modernized pop in a way that continues to unfold in synthesized, starry-eyed indie acts today, stepping back from the vocalized (shudder…) “indie-tronica” which has been his meal-ticket may seem almost snobbish or ungrateful. But only to the fickle purists among Postal Service fans, who’ve sampled a few highlights from 2007’s Dumb Luck but ignored Dntel’s glorious Life Is Full Of Possibilities. Us longtime fans will view After Parties I & II as wistful steps back toward Tamborello’s roots, when instrumental beats and coy melodies manifested into soothing transmissions that brimmed with possible directions. Back to when the absence of Ben Gibbard was not missed.

Without drifting so far back into Tamborello’s past that we revive his earliest, Aphex-indebted work, ‘Fear Of Corners’ (from Life Is Full Of Possibilities) is perhaps the best point of comparison linking After Parties to Dntel’s past. Okay, so that 2000-era track’s beats don’t align themselves as briskly and immediately as After Parties’ often 4/4 rhythms do. And these new tracks feature more overt melodies than that subdued rumination, usually bending around and warping inside out. Yet it’s Tamborello’s playfulness – which at best tinkered beneath his later, vocalist-laden work – that reestablishes its borderless parameters, finding an upbeat but wholly sentimental horizon over the title-track’s long haul. It’s a thrilling start, initially peppered by staccato snippets of melody before finding its nostalgic center, and following tracks ‘Lindsey’ and ‘Soft Alarm’ retain the same bouncy appeal; the former gravitating from textural moods into a micro-beat cascade that approaches M83-styled emoting, the latter a sleep-deprived haunt evoking the serenity of empty streets at 3am in the dead of winter.

After Parties II digs deeper into Tamborello’s desire to soundtrack the pulse-slowing relief that comes post-euphoria. Concise tracks like ‘Flares’ and ‘Peepsie’ dutifully maintain the dance rhythms but the melodies have sunken in, reverting to bass undercurrents and bubbling harmonics. By the time ‘Hits Line’ files through with its codeine-steeped trance, Dntel’s trajectory – split over two 12” EPs and four sides of vinyl – becomes increasingly nocturnal. A late second wind in ‘Aimless’ motivates the record’s back-end from falling asleep with misshapen synths and a feel-good beat before ‘Leed’ dims the lights with a driving but pillowed closer of moody restraint.

Let’s not underscore the importance of Postal Service’s Give Up strictly on the point that its scope is terribly played out almost a decade after it set the standard. Having provided Sub Pop with its second highest sales of any release – outsold only by Nirvana’s NevermindGive Up has earned Dntel the right to release just about anything on the revered label. That clause shouldn’t enter the equation given the resplendent quality within After Parties I & II, but I fear it has. Several months after its untimely release in December 2010, the dual records haven’t so much as gathered an exclamation mark riddled fanboy review on Amazon, much less the critical notice it deserves. Maybe there was no way Tamborello could retreat from such a stratosphere of success without causing a universal shrug among the hipster elite. Or perhaps introducing a Postal Service-like mentality to Dntel’s universe, as he did on Dumb Luck, forced longtime fans to look elsewhere. In any case, After Parties I & II affirms Dntel as more than a studio collaborator hunched over someone else’s lyrics, and restores his image as a tuneful composer still very capable of creating a swoon on his own.

After Parties by Dntel

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