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Monday, April 09, 2007

Dntel: "Dumb Luck"

It has been six years since Dntel last released a full-length album. Since that time, Jimmy Tamborello has undergone quite a transformation; from underground electro programmer to full-fledged indie pop god. Whether he was busy being one half of the uber-successful The Postal Service or putting out albums as James Figurine, Tamborello has found countless ways to stay busy. "Dumb Luck," the long-awaited follow up to 2001's "Life Is Full of Possibilities," sounds like an expected mixture of everything that Tamborello has accomplished over the last six years. In doing so, it largely abandons the sound that separated Dntel from Tamborello's numerous other projects.

The lead-off and title track, "Dumb Luck" features Tamborello's stylistically unflattering voice offering tidbits of self-pity such as, "Don't forget that it's dumb luck that got you here" or "you can't trust your friends, they will betray you." The song begins with the largely disjointed flutterings of Jimmy's production, but eventually collapses into a simple acoustic guitar with minimal electronic effects in the background. It is a decent song, but like most songs sung by Tamborello (i.e. James Figurine's 2006 album), the production value far outweighs the vocal performance.

In many ways, it feels as if "Dumb Luck" is less of a Dntel album and more of a "Jimmy Tamborello featuring All of His Friends" album. Aside from the title track, every song is sung by a guest performer. Some of these tracks work rather well, while others feel stale and generally unmemorable.

"To a Fault" featuring Grizzly Bear, for example, is a rater awesome track. Here, it actually sounds like a Dntel song should sound like, with minimal emphasis placed on vocals and more on everything else. As such, most of the song is comprised of evidence of Tamborello's unwavering skills as a producer/programmer and it stands out as one of the better songs on the album. On the contrary, "Roll On" is dominated by Jenny Lewis' trademark quasi-country voice and as a result the song sounds absolutely nothing like any other Dntel song to date. Like so many other songs on the album, it features the standard "verse/chorus/verse/chorus" setup. Tamborello's skills are entirely subdued here, and one has to wonder what even classifies this as Dntel and not James Figurine or The Postal Service (aside from the fact that that's what Tamborello says it is).

"Rock My Boat" featuring Mia Doi Todd, is a pretty good song that does a fantastic job of balancing the talents of both artists. Even if it's a bit clichéd to hear an artist sing, "You rock my boat," Mia Doi Todd does a fantastic job of complementing Tamborello's stellar song. Similarly, Andrew Broder offers up the best vocal performance of the album on "Natural Resources." At it's best moments, the song sounds like it could have been pulled right off of Radiohead's Kid A.

Arguably, the most notable vocalist on the album is Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes on "Breakfast In Bed." However, Oberst tones down his trademark emotionally wrought vocals and presents a completely uninspired melody, sounding almost exactly like another one of his songs, "Kathy With a Ks Song" (without the aforementioned emotion). Though his emotionally-vacant vocals actually blend rather well with Tamborello's song, one can't help be disappointed by their absence.

Overall, Dntel's "Dumb Luck" should satisfy any fan of The Postal Service or James Figurine. However, Dntel fans who were expecting a revival of the artist's unrivaled sound from previous albums might be a little disappointed. Personally, though I enjoy this album a lot, I can't help but feel a bit cheated. I am a huge Dntel fan, and this album offers nothing that would even suggest that this is the same Tamborello moniker. If the artist insists on using multiple monikers to promote his music, he should do a better job of defining each one. "Dumb Luck," though good, sounds absolutely nothing previous Dntel albums, and more like everything else Tamborello has done in recent years...for better or for worse.

Recommended for fans of The Postal Service, James Figurine, or any of the artists who lend their vocals to this album.

Key Tracks:
1. "To A Fault (featuring Grizzly Bear)"
2. "I'd Like to Know (featuring Lali Puna)"
3. "Rock My Boat (featuring Mia Doi Todd)"
4. "Natural Resources (featuring Andrew Broder of Fog)"

6 out of 10 Stars

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