Though the professionalism of Jimmy Tamborello's recorded output is easy to respect, it's often overshadowed by the intimation of deeper possibilities within his malleable sonic material. Whether in the wispy warmth of the Postal Service, as member of electro trio Figurine, or ethereal solo project Dntel, hiccups, skips and stray percussive elements suggested grooves percolating below the spit-shined surface that never quite materialized. Remixes were revelatory, from The Field improving Figurine's "55566688833" with giddy glitches, Early Works, Later Versions cloaking old tunes in spindly, fractured beats, or the incomparably ecstatic yearning of Superpitcher's rework of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan." The Dustmite EP released earlier this year suggested Tamborello embracing a more beat-driven directive, mechanically dark and surging. Now, more than ten years after the release of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" and five years since previous full-length Dumb Luck comes Aimlessness, the new Dntel album released on Pampa and guided under the watchful eye of DJ Koze. However, rather than furthering a focus on propulsion, as the Pampa name and recent material would suggest, Aimlessness is frothy, meditative and surprisingly rudderless.
Tamborello has said Aimlessness began as a Dntel project stemming from his increased interest in instrumental electronic music, and the mood here favors smoky atmospherics and restrained soundscapes. As in the past, Dntel works well with layering synthesizers and upending repetition by introducing unexpected glitches, but continues to tamp down the most interesting diversions before they threaten to overwhelm the more relaxed, swirling elements. Aimlessness is full of flashes of weirdness briefly asserting themselves, such as the Pong bassline bouncing around the end of "Doc" or the horn fanfares chopped over factory chattering midway through "Bright Night."
"Santa Ana Winds" contracts vocals from Nite Jewel into sighed repetitions over a burbling outro, and the gooey sentimentality of album opener "waitingfortherest II" teeters well between starry night cinematics and dissonance. "Trudge" is the highlight, with muscular didgeridoos, sequences of buzzing extra-terrestrial conversation, and percussion that sounds like Siamese twins thrown drunk and flailing into Neil Peart's kit. These dynamic bursts beg to be extended, but Dntel uses them purely as transitional elements between unthreatening placidity and lush anonymity, not so much the dance floor as the woozy, addled morning-after.
Dntel is adept at conjuring scenes: the two versions of "Jitters" on Aimlessness sound like they're borne from the same carnival, the first suggesting the stimulation of a spinning merry-go-round and the latter mix by Geotic, a kiss on the Ferris wheel high above the deep-fried haze. Ultimately, though, the songs lack character, endless synth crescendos and swells devolving into montage-pop and making Aimlessness sound twice as long as its 50 minute length. Songs like "My Orphaned Son," "Retracer" and "Paper Landscape" collapse in on themselves as they shoot for deep contemplation, sounding bland and lacking warmth. As you unspool slowly into Aimlessness, you can't help but wish for a more mediating human touch.
Tracklist: Dntel - Aimlessness 01. waitingfortherest II
04. My Orphaned Son
05. Bright Night
08. Santa Ana Winds
10. Jitters (Geotic mix)
11. Doc (Dntel mix)
12. Paper Landscape
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