Dntel on “Life is Full of Possibilities”

Filling the Void

Mar 13, 2017 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
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When Jimmy Tamborello talks about the release of his of first official Dntel album, 2001's Life is Full of Possibilities, he does so with no sense of sentimentality. He had already been making electronic music for over a decade at that point, releasing albums with Figurine and Strictly Ballroom, receiving little attention. And despite its reputation as one of the great electronic albums of the past 20 years, Life is Full of Possibilities didn't really change any of that when it was released in October of that year. "There was never a point where it hit it big or was a big seller or anything," he recalls. "It felt big to me, but there was no big success story with it. I remember in L.A. there was pretty much no scene that I was a part of for electronic music. I would play shows with bands a lot more than I would with other electronic artists. Now there are a lot more outlets for it, and it's more accepted as an art-form. It has been so integrated into other music that everyone is used to it now."

Experimental electronic music had been around for 30 years at that point, but Tamborello had found an approach that no one had thoroughly explored yet. For the first time, technology had caught up to his ambitions, with computers with sufficient power for him to record live vocals instead of using samples. And so he did just that, asking friends such as Mia Doi Todd and Rachel Haden to provide vocals for him to twist and manipulate around his ambitious mix of glitch, dub, and techno. "There just wasn't a lot of use of vocals, and looking back on it I think it's exciting when you find a void in the landscapesomething you want but that doesn't exist," Tamborello says. "It doesn't happen a lot, stumbling on something where you can fill a void. And there were definitely other examples of other groups doing it, but it was a pretty small groupat least what I could find."

The album is also notable for "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," his first collaboration with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. After an inspired weekend of working together, the duo decided they'd like to work on a full-length project. The Postal Service was born, whose 2003 release Give Up would win rave reviews and sell a million copies. With those two records, his legacy was set, but his work as an artist only got more complicated as he continued to make records and search for new territory to explore. Life is Full of Possibilities was the last time he'd have the luxury of making an album without expectations.

"There wasn't a lot of thought about what it should be, and that's something that I've struggled with a lot since then," he admits. "But I think it's also because it was before I had any awareness of anyone paying any attention to what I was doing. I think now you can be super anonymous, even if you're putting stuff out in the world, because there is so much stuff out there. But that did feel really natural and exactly what I was. It's hard to go back to that."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online. The issue came out in late December 2016 and partially celebrated the 15th anniversary of Under the Radar's first issue, which came out in December 2001, and thus featured articles on albums that also came out in 2001.]

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