Jimmy Tamborello has always gotten by with a little help from his friends. It seems that every project the electro-mastermind behind Figurine and the Postal Service has worked on is packed full of the 21st-century indie-rock elite. Dumb Luck, the new album from his Dntel project, is no different, gathering a glittering crew of guest vocalists and musicians to contribute.
His most famous collaborator, Ben Gibbard--the voice that made the Postal Service's Give Up a hit and the "other" album for Death Cab for Cutie fans to own--is conspicuously missing. But Dumb Luck continues to offer Tamborello's signature blend of sparse yet warm and whimsical electronic textures that convey a sense of the state between sleep and consciousness. The title track kicks off the album, with Tamborello himself speak-singing like Lou Reed over a melody fighting through the synthesized haze, before Sufjan Stevens-like choruses blend with acoustic strumming.
This trend continues throughout the album, with instrumentation shifting with each verse while retaining cohesion, proving the meticulous five years it took to record was worth it and making a quantum leap over 2001's more uniformly Eno-like Life Is Full of Possibilities. Highlights include the slow crawling "Rock My Boat," which evokes late-era Massive Attack, especially with Mia Doi Todd's ethereal singing. Of course, the superstar spots also satisfy, especially "Breakfast in Bed," where Conor Oberst returns the favor to Tamborello (who programmed Bright Eyes' "Take It Easy") with another gorgeously intimate warbling romantic lament over a propulsive synth slide.
Most impressive is the organic sense pervading Dumb Luck that extends far beyond the live drums and guitar accompaniment to all of Tamborello's pulses, blips, bottle taps and jingling keys. The nicest surprise is the cohesion even in the midst of the varying vocalists, something owed entirely to Tamborello's soulful (yes, really) programming. While electronic music may arguably be the hardest genre in which to establish one's recognizable identity, Tamborello's sense of musicianship seems to have sealed the deal.