This is your brain on Dntel: experimental, quiet, spacious, and at times, serenely emotional.
Los Angeles-based Dntel is James Scott “Jimmy” Tamborello, who mans the beat maker half of The Postal Service and forms part of the electro-pop moniker, Figurine. His new album Aimlessness includes guests from Baths (“Still”) and Nite Jewel. Such collaboration is a consistent theme across Tamborello’s various projects. The ninth release in an expansive discography, the discerning ear can perceive Eno-esque soundscapes in Aimlessness, replete with pensive static and meticulously crafted filters.
The songs are wrapped in nostalgia and reverie, synchronizing well with the album’s cover art – an upward, sky view of the tree tops. “Waitingfortherest II” which transitions into “Jitters” are both perhaps the most exemplary songs for this, spanning a seven minute discourse on dreamy tempo changes and flighty alternations of synth, marimba, and organ layers. Upon first listening, there is indeed an apparent “aimless” quality to the song structures on this album (resulting in a ‘lost but found’ paradox). The son of a jazz saxophone player, the free form baton has been passed down to Tamborello and it shows. Like a stream of consciousness, the meandering flow of the music casts its spell and one soon finds their auditory cortex on a Joycean river—grounded but in flight.
There’s a catch: is Dntel’s music beautiful? Is this what you wanted, or is this what you got? Psychologist Ellen Langer coined the “illusion of control” bias, referring to our overestimation of our capabilities in controlling outcomes. Like acoustic teleportation, the song “Santa Ana winds,” with its soaring female vocal loops, places one (forcefully?) on Interstate 5—travering winding roads and breezy overpasses. In such a way, much of Aimlessness bewitches the listener, laughing at their inability to steer it one way or another.
“My Orphaned Son” beckons descriptions of fireside wineglasses and snow falls, with its piano loop and violin track accompanying a gently pulsating beat. It’s one of those songs that make for conversational backdrop. And just when you think the magic was in the air, the track ends and you realize Dntel has been orchestrating the ordeal all along.
“Puma,” despite its mid-album placement, is the post-show nightcap. This repetitive number doesn’t drone into infinity, but there is a definite booby-trap embedded. The song ends before it’s completely clear where it’s going, with a false crescendo just before the ending.
Similarly, this album in its entirety may carry you off to places you weren’t quite sure even existed before they were explored. To understand recursion, there is the visual motif of Narcissus staring at his reflection. And to understand conceptual relationships in thinking, we have a host of literary disciples—with their eager mirrors—showing us the innards of our mind. Dntel holds down a new recursive front, tunneling its way through ear drums, metaphors, and eidetic paths that maybe, just maybe, turn out to be a maze… with no clear exit in sight.