The decade since Dntel released his debut album, 2001's Life Is Full of Possibilities (originally on Plug Research), electronic music--like any genre, really--has been through its own waves. From hardstyle to chiptune (the tones of which certainly rears its head through Jimmy Tamborello's line of work) and dubstep, its evolution and passing trends makes Dntel's first record feel far less avant-garde than it might have initially sounded. In retrospect, Life Is Full of Possibilities is warm, somewhat sad and occasionally reveling in blank-stare heartache, with introspective, bedroom-recorded breakup ruminations founded in intricate, electronic programs.
Sub Pop's recent reissue of the album sheds some light on those corners, and then amends alterations. The original album, which stays intact, now comes off as a swelling, one-man orchestration (though admittedly with a lot of collaborative effort, vocally and lyrically). It's less an exorcism now, and more a cathartic release. It begins when contributor Chris Gunst delivers an a capella message at the start of "Umbrella" broken by static, like there's communicative interference. It's the only male vocal presence on the record until the penultimate track, "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan", which we'll get to later. Quickly, he's joined by a growing bellow of bleated noise and skittering, jerkish beats that guide the song to Dntel's trademark, smeary finish.
The musky, female-sung hook from Mia Doi Todd in "Anywhere Anyone" sounds as though sampled from Laurie Anderson's legendary "O Superman" (a possible origin point for Dntel's compositive style, to be fair). But as this track and many of the others show, Tamborello never chooses to be quite as minimal. Catchy, nearly playful rhythms of beats deliberately pull the songs along while the arc of soft vocal melodies linger atop. Still, he doesn't need to stick to indie pop sensibilities at every turn, evidenced by the ambient, unnerving hum of instrumental cuts like the one-two of "Pillowcase" and "Fear of Corners." Hell, "Suddenly Is Sooner Than You Think" retains ghostly female vocals and adds a creepy accordion tone akin to Refused's "The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax." That contrast is measured by the subtle club atmosphere pervading something like "Fireworks," which could just as well soundtrack a gallery showing.
Of course, there's "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan", a.k.a. the Postal Service v0.5. This was the first collaboration between Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, and obviously something had clicked for the two of them, since it spawned a critically acclaimed, gold-selling project. And yeah, the track's crucial, sticking out on Possibilities hard thanks to Gibbard's knack for incredibly alluring, miniature melodies brushing up against Tamborello's carefully manipulated and steadily controlled beat.
After closer "Last Songs" chops and cuts acoustic strums to finish as solemnly as possible, a series of remixes parades through as the reissue's bonus content (with a couple of completely fresh B-sides, at least). This second disc is actually three tracks and 13 minutes longer than the album itself. It starts with four--count 'em, four--remixes of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," all taken from a 2002 maxi-single. Overkill? Maybe a little bit, but the addition of new vocalists to two of the songs at least gives the opening third here some variety. On the "Safety Scissors Spilled My Drink Mix," Gibbard's vocals are replaced by the more monotone, almost spoken tone of Erlend Øye from Kings of Convenience and Watson MacLetus. With "Barbara Morgenstern Remix," it becomes a co-ed duet (and since Morgenstern doesn't sound much like Jenny Lewis, not necessarily Postal Service-esque, either). The LCD Soundsystem-ish "Superpitcher Kompakt Remix" is anything but compact, incorporating stretched-out white synth and a head-bobbing, everlong rhythm to push the song to seven minutes (the longest track on Disc 2).
The accordion from "Suddenly Is Sooner Than You Think" makes a return in "Your Hill," but its tone is far brighter here, making for a sunny, glitchy interlude of sorts. Tamborello's vocal delivery is plaintive and appropriate to the track. He doesn't sing often (either on this song or across his work as a whole), but when he does it's measured and tasteful to his arrangement.
While most of this disc is compiled from single releases, there's a cross-section of four previously unreleased tracks. "Umbrella (Version 1)" is fuzzier and stuffier, while this version of "Last Songs" has vocals--a repeat appearance from Christ Gunst, whose singing is ever-so-slightly Auto-Tune affected. "Sorry_" is a series of pulsing fits of static, subtle organ, dirge-y grinding and cut-up female "ooo"ing, but it's blended so smoothly it comforts more than it jars.
There are three remixes of "Anywhere Anyone." "Silent Servant & Regis Sandwell" might be the eeriest: For five minutes a thumping beat drives the song while Todd's voice and white atmosphere saunters along.
The whole package is complemented by a crisp, ambulance red-heavy digipak. This is a pretty definitive collection of all the Life Is Full of Possibilities-related material, offering just about an entire album cycle in one place. While the remixes are predictably hit or miss, there are some interesting moments to be had. For big fans of the LP, or those who never came across it the first time, this is worth a purchase.
(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan