Never mind the title of his seventh album — it would be hard to call Jimmy Tamborello aimless. Sure, the Postal Service — his project with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, which netted his greatest commercial success — hasn’t recorded since 2003, and may never again. But under his solo alias Dntel, he’s put out four albums and umpteen singles, plus a solo LP and a few EPs as James Figurine. (That’s not counting his work in a slew of bands and side projects.) He’s certainly been peripatetic, however, exploring everything from winsome electro-pop to hyperactive glitch music. With his fifth album, Aimlessness, Tamborello comes to DJ Koze’s Pampa label — home to left-field house and techno producers like IsolÃ©e, Robag Wruhme and Ada, all Europeans — and delivers his most satisfying album yet. It’s also his most coherent, though “coherent” might be a strange word for a record that goes from triple-time footwork tributes in the style of Aphex Twin to beat-less synth burble.
Most of the album’s tracks began as sketches titled simply “Aimless 1,” “Aimless 2,” etc.; Tamborello says that it was DJ Koze who whittled down the Los Angeles musician’s submissions and whipped the album into shape. Whomever’s to thank, the album strikes the perfect balance between styles and tempos and moods. “Still,” featuring Baths, sounds like the Field remixing My Bloody Valentine; the sketch-like “Puma,” with its plinky keyboards and scratched-vinyl strings, would serve well in a Wes Anderson film. Tamborello likes complicated structures — “Retracer,” a dreamy synthesizer fantasia featuring vocals from Nite Jewel, rolls its melody out in seven-bar phrases, and “Still” plays 6/4 against 4/4 — but his synths and samples are so warm, and his melodies so persuasive, that you might never notice the unusual math.
Tamborello sounds no less sentimental here than he did on “This Is the Dream of Evan and Chan” or “Such Great Heights,” just more muted. You could almost sing the melody of “Such Great Heights” to “Jitters,” but those pachinko-parlor beats fracture the sense of yearning into something more abstract. On “My Orphaned Son,” the album’s dreamiest song, lush chords are offset by ominous scrapes and rumbles, including something that sounds almost like slowed-down gunshots.
Quite contrary to the singles-driven trend in pop music, the music on Aimlessness works best as an album, listened to in full and, ideally, on repeat. Sounds and ideas strike up a conversation across disparate tracks; you begin to feel less like you’re listening in a linear fashion, and more like you’re wandering from room to room in a house, picking up objects and setting them down — distracted, maybe, but so very present. Perhaps Aimlessness was the perfect title after all.