[10 November 2011]
Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello) released Life Is Full of Possibilities in 2001, but the album probably received more attention two years later when Tamborello collaborated with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard as the Postal Service. That act, born following the pair’s collaboration for Dntel’s “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan”, found commercial success with their album Give Up. From a mainstream perspective a decade later, it’s easy to see the original Dntel album as simply the launching pad for another project, but a new remastered reissue serves as a reminder that the original album was more than just that.
“Evan and Chan” gave the album its catchiest cut, but it’s not simply a Postal Service preview. The piece is fuzzier and less immediate than anything from Give Up and it doesn’t sound out of place here, even as an obvious critical focal point. At the same time, it doesn’t quite sound like the other nine cuts on the original album. Gibbard’s vocals are less molested, and the track has more of a traditional melody and song structure to it than we might anticipate, at least until the static-laden ending.
But saying it doesn’t fit in on Life Is Full of Possibilities would be to miss one of the successes of Dntel’s work. While the album maintains a steady aesthetic, Tamborello’s a flexible producer. The closing number “Last Songs” could almost serve as backing for a folk song. It’s cinematic and not the only time Dntel sounds reminiscent of acts like Múm. That sound expands further for more ambient moments, such as “Pillowcase”. Other tracks, like “Fear of Corners”, are glitchier and more quintessentially laptop-y.
While Gibbard’s vocal remains the most memorable, Tamborello worked with a number of singers for his album. On “Umbrella”, he gives Chris Gunst of Beachwood Sparks room, but he tinkers with the singing, manipulating it until it becomes most important as just another sound in arrangement. Mia Doi Todd’s performance on “Anywhere Anyone” is compelling, and Tamborello mostly lets her voice float above his production work.
The deluxe edition comes with a bonus disc, and like most bonus discs, it will mostly please die-hard fans. This one starts by collecting the material from the “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” EP. The four remixes of the title cut deserve listens but, aside from the Barbara Morgenstern cut, don’t do too much to develop the song and aren’t essential. The Silent Servant & Regis Sandwell District mix of “Anywhere Anyone” makes the most striking change of any of the remixes, adding both a bigger beat and a more ghostly sound.
The other tracks show more focus on Tamborello’s exploration as a producer at the time. While these tracks don’t hold up to those used on the albums (the first version of “Umbrella” being a noteworthy example), they’re more than just interesting documents. They show Tamborello even further removed from pop sounds, focusing more on the electronic, sometimes even dancier (or at least IDMier), side of things. It’s a good reminder of the compelling work he was doing outside of that other act he got involved with, and is certainly worth a revisit.