After five years in the making, Dntel's Dumb Luck hesitantly took shape, evolving into several acts after a splintering, disintegrated acoustic guitar loop battles a near-whispered vocal. This is the bewitching, lullaby-esque ambience that Jimmy Tamborello had been crafting since his last venture as Dntel, one of his pet projects that successfully marries electronic and organic instrumentation in digestible pop servings. Although he's singing on the album-opening title track, Tamborello is joined by a bunch of guests on Dumb Luck so that his compositions gain a little more distinction from track to track, but mostly because he's as timid as he sounds.
“A lot of times, I have trouble thinking of things that I want to sing about,” he says. “I'm also not really comfortable with my voice. I feel pretty limited with it, so that's when I started looking to other people. I'm getting more used to it, and I'm starting to realize that you have to work a little harder. Writing lyrics should take work, and sometimes I think they come to me really quickly.”
The recognizable cast that helped out Tamborello on Dumb Luck (Sub Pop, 2007) includes Jenny Lewis, Lali Puna and Mystic Chords of Memory. Meanwhile, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst captures a similar intimate aura to Tamborello's “Dumb Luck” with a lead vocal on “Breakfast in Bed.” As Oberst's delivery trails off toward the end of each line, a prominently pitch-bent loop twirls over a backdrop of lead guitar, synth strings and a shuffling beat courtesy of an Elektron MachineDrum SPS-1 UW.
“The main melodic loop on ‘Breakfast in Bed’ was a simple synth line run through a Line 6 Delay Modeler with all the dry signal taken out,” Tamborello says. He also uses Universal Audio UAD-1 powered plug-ins and a Vermona RetroVerb for effects purposes. “I just tweaked the delay time back and forth to make the loop bend,” he says. “I ran it through a filter I made on the Clavia Nord Modular to make it crunchy, which also somehow added all those squeaks that sound like birds chirping. I recorded this part for a few minutes and went back and edited it so it stayed on time, and I took out the parts where it didn't work for some reason. I do that a lot, where I hit record and then just mess around with a sound for a little while, doing a lot of cutting and pasting afterward to make it fit.”
While Tamborello can't calculate exactly how much time he spent in front of Cubase SX3 since beginning to work on Dumb Luck after Life Is Full of Possibilities (Plug Research, 2001), he has also busied himself with remixing, creating ambient techno-pop as James Figurine and working as one half of the duo, the Postal Service (with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard). But Dumb Luck doesn't harbor any of the clean, dial-tone synth sounds of Give Up (Sub Pop, 2003) and differs quite a bit from last year's James Figurine full-length, Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake (Plug Research).
On Dumb Luck, “To a Fault” features Ed Droste from Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear, whose vocal harmonies reverberate in ghostlike patterns above glitchy beats and a careful weave-work of synths and acoustic guitar. And before the track's steadily churning mechanics come to an end, handclaps, snare rolls and twinkling chimes join in on the action. This shape-shifting methodology also powers “Natural Resources,” a multisectioned opus of noise, clicking beats, saxophone (as provided by Jimmy Tamborello's dad) and a piano sample that was distorted through another Nord Modular filter. Andrew “Fog” Broder did the vocals on “Natural Resources,” which is a truly odd entry here, but the strangeness that envelopes the bulk of Dumb Luck — even on its beautiful, introspective opener — serves the album well.
“I've been working on the songs for so long,” he says. “They get worked on for a couple days and put down for a month, and listened to again, and worked on again. They get pulled in a lot of different directions. Once I do something I like, I have trouble getting rid of it completely if it doesn't work with the song, so I'll usually leave a little bit of it in if I like it enough — it makes the songs scatterbrained a bit, so there's constant change.”