Can you think of any musician besides Jimmy Tamborello with a bigger reputation built upon a side project? As L.A. glitch performer Dntel, he turned his song “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard into a separate, ongoing concern: The Postal Service. It begat not just the ubiquitous “Such Great Heights,” but Tamborello’s wholesale move to mighty indie label Sub Pop. It also left the Dntel name at a crossroads. Life is Full of Possibilities, his 2001 debut with that first Gibbard collab, became something of a lost classic of American electronica. Dumb Luck followed six years later, a mess of sad, slowcore BPMs. But now there’s Aimlessness which—despite the mopey title—suggests Dntel has a healthy infusion of direction.
Aimlessness is Dntel’s first release on the Pampa label, and it’s evidence of synergy in action. The story goes that on a recent tour he met label co-owner DJ Koze, notorious himself for cracked remixes of buzz-bin acts like Caribou and Battles. After bonding over Dntel’s unauthorized remixes of Enya, Koze offered to advise him on the sound and sequence of new original music he was developing. The results here are mostly playful, bubbly, and comforting.
In an interview with Inverted Audio, Dntel betrayed his reliance on—and influence by—indie-rock across his first few albums. Aimlessness finds him now getting on famously with modern electronic tropes. “Still” pays glitchy homage to witch house, while “Bright Night” develops drama through unresolved chiptune harmonies. He also brings in neo-techno-poppers Baths and Nite Jewel, their whack-a-mole vocals and synth play occupying the guest spots once reserved for the likes of a whining Conor Oberst.
Intriguing songs such as “Doc” and “My Orphaned Son” are built with the bricks of chilled house epics—strings, divas, bongo, piano—but it’s as if the loops are played out of sequence and misaligned. The curling, weaving “Retracer” might be the closest Dntel’s been to ambient dub, while “Waitingfortherest II” is a choir of crickets and Star Trek transporters.
Dntel’s always had a few aggro, uncomfortable sounds in his mix and “Trudge” and “Puma” are maybe a bit too dizzy and clattering. Yet he can also corral that noise into a song like “Jitters,” ultimately relaxed and refreshing like the best of Plaid or μ-Ziq. For as much critical love as both Possibilities and the Postal Service get, Aimlessness features Tamborello formulating newfound accessibility on the strength of his beats and beeps alone.