“How could one reconcile this timeless bliss of seeing as one ought to see with the temporal duties of doing what one ought to do, and feeling as one ought to feel?” Huxley poses this question in The Doors of Perception, his ethereal state a personal, provocative experiment on the exploration of alternate realities and intoxication that led to the ultimate documentation of alterations in the senses by “other means.” Reconciling timeless bliss seems to be something Jimmy Tamborello, the man behind DNTEL, has spent the majority of his musical career attempting, with varied results. Indeed, the 2001 dreamy bedroom-electro-pop that was beautifully orchestrated on his third album Life Is Full of Possibilities remains a benchmark in the sub-genre that was pioneered in part by DNTEL and then again in a collaboration between Tamborello and Ben Gibbard. The latter of these efforts resulted in the famed electro-pop duo The Postal Service and their 2003 debut Give Up, which has found its way onto more than one ‘best of the decade’ list.
Whereas the Huxley publication embodied a work both tender and pure, an insight into experience that was as genuine and warming as it possibly could have been — particularly when taking into account that the author was deep into his fifties and had taken just under half a gram of mescaline — it feels as though the DNTEL project has retreated inside of itself. Tamborello has become distracted in a hazy, sleepwalking audio terrain that has lost touch with the romantic humility of what may well remain his most triumphant releases. The prized and precise world that Huxley describes also renders warm, fuzzy, and colorful dream-like images unique to his work, gracing objects and items with a nostalgic air as if detached from his own body. “…I was now a Not-self,” he retorts while eyeing a pair of trousers, “simultaneously perceiving and being the Not-self of the things around me.” In this regard, both the artist and the writer seem to drift away and apart from what was theirs; the major difference here, however, is that the former seems to have drifted a little too far, and the title of his latest release might be an indicator of the direction he is being taken.
In a recent interview, Tamborello described Aimlessness as “fluffiness.” This could be interpreted in several ways, even though he later admits his description is a little vague. One might assume that it refers to the distinct lack of form, flow, and shape on each track, which is apparent on the album more often that not: The structure is flat and unassuming, despite the collaborative efforts with Baths, whose welcome appearance on “Still” does add a slight degree of edginess to the album. However, after several spins, it appears that ‘edginess’ is precisely what’s missing here; in fact, the listener is left pining for it, as almost every track floats along at its own pleasant, blissful pace — easy to swallow but difficult to digest. This is most evident in tracks such as “Retracer” and “Jitters,” which are nice enough pieces, but that’s just it — they are nice… “fluffy.”
It doesn’t help matters that the album opens with “waitingfortherest II,” a still and airy ambling peppered with hiss and echo that builds into a short-lived digital writhing only to pitter-patter away without a hint of what one might expect from the man behind tracks like “Fear of Corners” and “Last Songs.” From this point onwards, Aimlessness begins to unfold and Tamborello’s guests make their appearances. The Baths track is definitely one of the album’s highlights, punching through the fluffiness and blossoming into a rich, catchy, and captivating electro-pop piece that emphasizes DNTEL’s talent as a musician. But by the time Nite Jewel takes to the stage on “Santa Ana Winds,” the album has staggered rather substantially and is unable to pick itself up. This brings to mind what Huxley might have looked like to Humphry Osmond, the psychiatrist who monitored the author during his mescaline trials: coherent and keen to embark on his objectives, but decidedly unable to do so.
Tamborello’s potential and willingness are readily apparent on Aimlessness, but every time I decide to give it another crack, I can’t help but envisage these attributes drifting off into the ether, slowly and unaccompanied, with this album playing somewhere in the background as a bittersweet soundtrack to what could have been.