You place the record upon the turntable and press the button; the vinyl starts spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. You slowly place the needle against it and immediately a quiet static is emitted from the speakers. The static beings to get louder and turns into a processed acoustic guitar that has been reversed and cut up until it sounds as a natural extension of the static that grows and recedes.
The one overarching musical theme that seems to run throughout Dntel’s latest endeavor, Dumb Luck, is the ever-present white-noise and static that forms as much of an integral instrument of the music as the rotating vocalists, drum machines, and synthesizers.
Although one should not place too much emphasis on the constant presence of static, this is one of the major differences between Dntel (which is essentially James Tamborello and the rotating lineup of vocalists) and his other, more popular outfit, The Postal Service. Whereas Postal Service was more of a polished electronic band featuring Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, with Dntel, Taborello delves completely in stray beeps and buzzing and creates a much more noisy atmosphere without getting to loud.
As mentioned earlier, Dumb Luck contains a different vocalist in each of the tracks allowing for a more varied experience between the tracks while maintaining a central cohesiveness throughout with Taborello’s intensive and layered production.
In “To A Fault,” Ed Droste’s, from Grizzly Bear, vocals provide the feeling that the entire vocal track was mixed in reverse, which fits in with the relatively sparse production to create a quite expansive and longing feeling to the track (the lyrical central theme).
With “Roll On” we have Postal Service veteran Jenny Lewis (from Rilo Kiley) which starts off sounding like an old dial radio just picking up the reception of an AM station that quickly becomes much clearer and turns into a folk-tinged electronic ballad dealing with one’s changing life (“but it’s just no fun when you hate the person that you’ve become”) and those we love and those we did.
In “The Distance” we have the musical cousin to “Roll On” featuring vocals by Grant Olson and Sanya Escott (of Arthur & Yu) dealing with the separation between relationships (“the spread between is spreading and getting strong”) while being one of the more upbeat tracks. Like much of the record, there is a feeling of losing touch of a loved one and a sense of loss.
And when it comes to feeling hopeless who better than Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst who appears in the penultimate track, “Breakfast In Bed.” This track is by far the simplest and sparse with a keyboard that sounds out of tune and not much layering giving one the sense of the constant drinking issues the two main characters in the narrative have. The track deals with a love affair while on the road that cannot continue (“but back in New York, they can never find this out”) but not wanting to leave her because, much like his drinking problem, hers leads to many instances when she is need of someone looking out for her health and our narrator wishes “that could be me but it’s just not possible.”
As much as the vocalists assist in fleshing out the themes found within the music, James Tamborello’s production on Dumb Luck is really what keeps this record together. His manipulation of random buzzing, bleeps, and erratic drumbeats create the perfect soundtrack for quiet rainy nights indoors or in cars when trying to clear up ones minds.
8/10 Teapots and Kettles