Listening to Dumb Luck, Jimmy Tamborello’s new release under the Dntel moniker, is kind of like listening to a robot cry for 40 minutes. That means Dumb Luck takes a lot less time than a viewing of Steven Spielberg’s A.I.—and like A.I., Dumb Luck is a work that is genuinely, though only sporadically, beautiful, but no less emotionally dull. The nifty experimentation and studio trickery is impressive in the same way the kid in A.I. never blinks, but damned if I can remember the character’s name.
Ultimately, the songs on Dumb Luck don’t really merit the IDM nonsense that makes a Dntel track a Dntel track; it’s like someone layered a bunch of blips and bloops and drum machines that sound like dishwashers on top of a Ben Folds song. “Roll On” is written and sung by Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley fame; she accompanies her Neko Case-crossed-with-Punky-Brewster vocals with staccato notes plucked on an acoustic guitar and, like those on her solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, the song is deceptively simple. So why does it have to sound like someone is playing Atari in the background? During one verse, Tamborello’s production approaches genius, as he layers loops of fingerpicked guitars atop one another into a hypnotic swirl, but then the clicks and buzzes set in again and deciphering Lewis’s melody becomes a minor chore. And that’s on a good song.
The rest of Dumb Luck just beeps and coos along self-confidently until something kind of cool happens, like the Stereolab-esque touches on the Lali Puna collaboration “I’d Like To Know.” Tamborello may as well paint flames on the hood of a car without any wheels. The poppy, Conor Oberst-voiced “Breakfast In Bed,” which, compared to the rest of this mope-fest is pretty catchy, is the only other track worth much of a listen. Björk, Pet Shop Boys, and the like have mined pathos from electronica before—as has Tamborello, whose Postal Service project was sweet and clever. The problem with Dumb Luck is that it does the exact opposite: the beats are so incongruous and unnecessary that the only way to read the album is as a quirky novelty.