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[Pampa; 2012]

By ; July 3, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Jimmy Tamborello has made a career out of mixing bedroom pop with a soft kind of IDM, crafting a sound that would come to define the work of so many young musicians with Pro Tools and a stifling sense of suburban ennui. As Dntel, he’s toyed with such modest escapism for over a decade, starting with his landmark 2001 debut Life Is Full of Possibilities. Eleven years later, Aimlessness proves that he’s still a dreamer.

“Witingfortherest II” has the distinct aura of an old video game system being dusted off and booted up, a distant cackle of static and echo grounding gentle synth pads in a sort of hyper-vintage reality; after all, you can’t escape the atmosphere before taking off. If that’s the case, then “Jitters” is the soundtrack to the introductory level of some long-lost 2D platform, all bubbling drums and accessible melodies, guiding the listener without getting too aggressive or particularly challenging.

Aimlessness is divided between such ambient instrumental numbers and more typically electropop-oriented fare, such as “Still,” which features the vocal stylings of Will Wiesenfeld (better known as Baths) in front of anthemic, rave-ready, almost brassy electronica. Its unassuming pleasantness belies a quiet desperation hiding beneath the lyrics’ romantic optimism: “I thought you might like to come home,” Baths sings with the sort of disarming straightforwardness that Ben Gibbard so memorably employed on his and Tamborello’s watershed 2003 album Give Up. “I left the bed warm for you, my love/ All these years not knowing where you roam/ Still, I thought you might like to come home.”

For the most part, “My Orphaned Son” lacks vocals, and the singing we do hear is smeared and incomprehensible. But its title again suggests a levity that the music itself avoids; in fact, its piano and fiddle grant the song an unexpected organic richness that sounds more like Snow White ambling through enchanted forest thickets than anything that might approach pleading or plaintive. “Bright Night,” on the other hand, is more resolutely 8-bit and uptempo, presenting a more danceable alternative to the cautious, calmer beats of the preceding track; that said, it gradually fades out to the tune of a repeating snippet of symphonic grandeur, treating us not to brassy synchs but actual brass samples. The transition from electronic to organic is gradual, seamless, and effortless, like the best of Dntel’s work has always been.

“Puma” really stands out, what with its immediate piano hook, gorgeous string backing, but (perhaps too true to this album’s title) it quickly loses itself in a series of bloops and beeps that kill any potential momentum. Similarly, the soothing vocal work of Nite Jewel fails to breathe new life into the familiar (some would say cliched) ’80s revivalism of “Santa Ana Winds.” Aimlessness is a pleasant enough notion where ambient music is concerned, but it provides insufficient structure for the pop-oriented tracks that made Tamborello a “big name” (as far as indie electronica goes) in the first place.

Indeed, the second half of this album is more upfront with its choppy sampling and inviting rhythm, yet it never lifts off the way we anticipate or hope. Instead, songs like “Trudge” do just what they say, meandering through their run times while neither progressing nor settling on a single hypnotic repetition. Even reworkings such as Baths side project Geotic’s remix of “Jitters” fall short of engaging the listener, seemingly content to instead ride their own chill waves in circular motion so that they end up just where they started.

Essentially, Aimlessness is a jovial affair that promises more in its first half than it can deliver in its second. It makes for enjoyable listening on a summer morning, and that in itself is a perfectly acceptable goal. But too many of these tracks are too brief to develop a memorable mood or texture. As such, we’re left with an album that seems stuck between pop and ambient without either “choosing a side” or melding the two genres in an innovative way. Not that every good album has to be “innovative,” of course, but it would have been nice for Tamborello to at least try. This isn’t a bad album by any means, but that doesn’t mean it can’t disappoint.


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