I first stumbled upon the music of Jimmy Tamborello eleven years ago, back when the world was a very different place. Pre-9/11, I was single and working in a little indie record store, which I then believed would be a job for life. My music news and recommendations were still coming from NME and John Peel rather than the internet; I had just discovered SoulSeek but still preferred buying CDs, and was listening to music on the move via a MiniDisc walkman. I had taken a train down to London alone to meet up with a friend at an Aphex Twin all-nighter, and – despite my fierce loyalty to local small businesses – was tempted by the bright lights and packed racks into HMV’s Oxford Street megastore where, driven by blind curiosity, I purchased (among other, less memorable, choices) Dntel’s second album Life Is Full Of Possibilities. As stupid as it sounds now, that record changed the way I thought about music. For years I had stuck to a strict diet of hip hop, post-rock and experimental techno, but Tamborello’s bouncing beats and bright melodies re-opened my ears to the glories of alt-rock and pop, proving that traditional song structures and forward-thinking electronic production could co-exist happily when done correctly. The album’s most fully-realised track, “The Ballad Of Evan And Chan” with guest vocalist Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), spawned a full-length collaboration – the Postal Service’s Give Up - that went on to become one of the defining releases of the Noughties, uniting emo kids and web geeks and soundtracking a thousand teen movie love scenes, but Tamborello’s fourth long-player as Dntel, Aimlessness (out this week on DJ Koze’s Pampa label), revisits the alternately dreamy and abstract textures of his earlier work. For a start, in stark contrast to 2007’s star-studded Dumb Luck this is a largely instrumental affair, with vocals prominent only on the overtly poppy “Santa Ana Winds” (courtesy of Nite Jewel‘s Ramona Gonzalez) and micro-house thumper “Still” (with Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld). Elsewhere, Tamborello flits between fuzzy ambience (“Waitingfortherest II,” “Paper Landscapes”) and skittering, melodic electronica (“Jitters”), occasionally landing on a particularly sweet spot somewhere between the two; “My Orphaned Son” marries fluttering flutes and cut & paste found sounds to glitchy ticks, whilst “Bright Night” (below) finds brassy fanfares swelling atop gentle drum & bass rhythms. “Doc” and “Trudge,” meanwhile, bring some more contemporary reference points to the party, the former’s billowing synths and through-the-wall bass thump recalling Burial’s post-rave cyber-blues, the latter’s churning psychedelia tipping its hat to the synthesized queasiness of the Spectrum Spools set, and there’s even room for a spot of hypnotic Steve Reich-inspired minimalism in “Puma”‘s rippling pianos. With so many different styles in the mix, one might expect the album to sound, well, aimless but instead it stands up as a purposeful and impressively coherent artistic statement, and one of the strongest electronic releases of the year. Tamborello’s music may not seem as innovative or as futuristic as it did a decade ago but the exploratory sense of wide-eyed wonder shines through; the world may have changed beyond our wildest dreams, but life remains full of possibilities.
Aimlessness is out now on Pampa Records