Whether he's drawing up glittering autonomous landscapes or simply smearing digital icing on an alt-country tune, Jimmy Tamborello--as Dntel, as Figurine, as half of the Postal Service--has always made beats with an unflappable sense of play. Even when he picks up the narrative of a renegade hero on instrumental concept album Something Always Goes Wrong, you get the feeling that he's just a kid in tinfoil armor waving a wooden sword.
Tamborello has historically excelled at taking the slick, lubricated pathways of IDM and filling them with heart, humor and a whole lot of fun. That's what made him the perfect companion to Ben Gibbard's lyrical schmaltz; under his gentle, colorful beats, Death Cab could actually go electric without sounding like a fermented Air B-side. Electronic music has a split propensity to either take itself dead seriously or channel a cynical humor; Dntel does neither. Effortlessly warm without dipping into the realm of the sentimental, Tamborello's primary project transforms the icy realms of synthetic beats into places we feel we can actually explore. But warmth's not always enough. Without momentum, even Tamborello's most interesting textures fall limply around his ankles. While there's certainly still plenty of fun to be had on Aimlessness, the light that flooded the cracks throughout Tamborello's prior discography seems to have dimmed, leaving behind a tepid pool of half-animated ideas.
A generically hazy intro gives way to the miniaturized Modeselektor formation "Jitters," whose beats bounce around in predictable rotations like billiard balls in a Rube Goldberg machine. Guest artist Baths hops on board for Aimlessness's most memorable track "Still," which sustains a subtle angst underneath its clicks and chirps. But the rest of the record dawdles, conjuring pleasant and forgettable auras. There are interesting ideas, like when Tamborello perforates a gauzy Boards of Canada loop with his signature pointillism on "Bright Night" or bangs away on "Puma's" toy piano, but they don't evolve much beyond doodles. There's just no tension, no build; curious textures and patterns abound, but never find a reason to propel themselves forward. Almost every track feels like the outro to a better album.
It's a shame, really, that whatever creative juices gave rise to Life is Full of Possibilities--a stunning record that strode through its initial unease to an ethereal climax--have dried up. Tamborello's textural sensibilities remain, but his ability to supercharge glitch into something intoxicating and luminous seems to have dipped out the back.