Jimmy Tamborello. Not a name that's necessarily a household one.
The Postal Service. Now that's one: A name synonymous not just with your local mail provider, but with the gold-selling pseudo-trio that infamously involves Tamborello, now renowned Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard and Rilo Kiley frontwoman / currently solo songstress Jenny Lewis.
Tamborello first made waves with critics on 2001's Life Is Full of Possibilities, the ultra-creepy full-length of glitchy electro-indie under his Dntel moniker. Tamborello had previously served time in the slowcore-repping Strictly Ballroom and the more currently-leaning Figurine (as well as Further and the Tyde), but had yet to achieve critical acclaim like he would with Life. What really stood out on that album, however, was "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," a single heralded as one of the year's best with a cameo from Gibbard. So the story goes, inspiration struck and the two decided to flesh out enough compositions (with help from Lewis) for the Postal Service's now phenomenally huge Give Up, released in 2003.
So it's now been about six years for Tamborello, who has clearly been given enough time for a followup to his own personal pet project, with his Sub Pop debut Dumb Luck recorded from 2002-2006. While it's imaginably hard for him to live up to expectations, Dumb Luck is still an intriguing, sprawling listen even if it's not as absolutely dumbfounding, numbing and sonically accomplished as Life.
What's most important to note is how much the moods on Dumb Luck have drastically shifted from Life. Perhaps Tamborello decided he was immediately done with the scare tactics that pervaded Life, having then served up the entirely cheerier soundscapes on Give Up only two years later. Either way, Dumb Luck feels much less threatening. Tamborello still dabbles in fuzzed out tones, energetic drum fills and a cutesy, varied array of keyboards amongst other programming effects continuously layered upon one another, but it makes for pretty, heartwarming atmospheres rather than stabbing, nervous chases.
The stunning cast of characters that makes up Dumb Luck is the other clearly important note. Tamborello offers up his own lead vocal on the opening title track and he sounds perfect for his own creations; he's calm, paced, and sings in a friendly, subdued manner -- it's a pity he barely shows up again for the rest of Dumb Luck's course. However, it's Dumb Luck's standout moments that rely upon Tamborello's talented friends. Members of Lali Puna jump on "I'd Like to Know," offering hushed vocal tones and soft piano strokes to its trancey paranoia. The obvious favorite here is "Roll On" with Lewis, where Nintendo blips bubble to the surface at the beginning before retreating for rising synth fuzz and alt-country acoustic guitars, only to return later; meanwhile Lewis saunters over the whole thing with her sweet, sultry voice. Mia Doi Todd's smooth, affecting singing causes "Rock My Boat" to jump out effectively, while what sounds like Tim Kinsella noodling on an acoustic occurs in the background. Conor Oberst marks "Breakfast in Bed" with his signature rythmic mumble, adding a rare melancholy moment to Dumb Luck that's sorely needed to break up what's usually a consistent cheer.
Dumb Luck could understandably never stand up to the lofty expectations dropped upon it, but with a nearly star-studded cast of indie's who's who, Dntel still manage to turn in a number of impressive performances and maintain a fair consistency throughout 41 minutes of electronic layers, pop elements and overall beautiful soundscapes.
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