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We all have our secret places of safety. Like our mothers and fathers before us, it becomes apparent that we have a need to balance the relative celebrity that comes with being a participant in family or social life with an occasional, sustaining foray into local anonymity. My roommate chooses a dated everyman donut shop a few blocks from our apartment. I elect to silently reside beneath the illuminated ray of images projected in any near-empty local movie theater. Either way, I often wonder how, with all the possibilities there are to blend into a city so populous, we choose our respective corners of invisibility. This is the type of choice best made instinctually; which places are seemingly pulling us toward them? And Dntel's Life is Full of Possibilities is perhaps the most appropriate soundtrack for such a decision.

Alternating between brooding, intentionally loose indie sentiment and forward-thinking electronic minimalism, Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel) does a brilliant job in assembling a sound sculpture that convincingly captures the subtlety of a specific type of melancholy. At times curious, at others uplifting, Life is Full of Possibilities is as optimistic as it is foreboding (the ambulance artwork on the cover is a perfect visual symbol of said dichotomy). Not only does Tamborello enlist a supporting cast of credible indie performers -- including Mia Doi Todd, Brian McMahon (For Carnation, ex-Slint), Chris Gunst (Beachwood Sparks), Rachel Haden (ex-That Dog) and Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) -- but he also incorporates and equally eclectic palette of production techniques to create something uniquely visible amidst the waves of similarly sounding releases.

Immediately, as seen on the album's opening track "Umbrella," he exercises one of the nearly infinite production possibilities at his disposal by cleverly distorting Chris Gunst's scratchy vocals with understated pauses, samples and washes of sound before slipping a beat in and allowing the song to take shape. He sets the tone well, and although the album meanders into distinct sonic realms of ambient transience ("Pillowcase") and percussive glitch ("Fear of Corners"), it remains a satisfying, cohesive series of compositions from the opening strained vocal.

Tumbrel's use of the female voice is scattered throughout the record, yet I think that the three songs highlighting the vocal talents of LA singer/songwriter Mia Doi Todd, Meredith Figurine (1/2 of Tamborello's Figurine project) and ex-That Dog bassist Rachel Haden are the album's strongest. The presence of such angelic and not too Bjorkish voices creates a sturdy base well suited for Tamborello's layering of additional environmental and manipulated tracks. "Anywhere Anyone," Suddenly is Sooner Than You Think," and "Why I'm So Unhappy" uniquely prove Dntel's patience with his own sound; the confidence to hold back, to find success in exclusion is perhaps the essence of Dntel's music.
It's a musical alcove independent of the traffic and bustle of everyday. Like many of us, Dntel escapes to a place that he believes is his very own, a secretive locale under the radar of the people who know and care about him. Yet for every favorite seat in every out-of-the way diner, there is someone who sits there before and after we arrive. Maybe he tells those stories next record. The possibilities are endless.

-- Steve Marchese



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[email protected] | December 2001 | Issue 21
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