It certainly wasn't a fluke that the Postal Service's Give Up became so popular -- the sleek sounds and vulnerable melodies Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard fused together were a perfect combination for early-2000s indie. For a time, it seemed like the Postal Service might overshadow Tamborello's more venerable experimental project, Dntel, so it's nice to see that he returned to it with Dumb Luck, which arrived six years after the brilliant Life Is Full of Possibilities. It's even nicer to discover that Dntel still has an identity distinct from the Postal Service: Dumb Luck is another lovely, impressionistic collage of dream pop, indie rock, and electronic sounds, graced with vocals by some of indie's most distinctive singers. A little of the Postal Service's immediacy has rubbed off on Dumb Luck's songwriting, but Dntel's sound remains much more abstract, with squiggles, splashes, and scratches of sound popping up everywhere; the electro-calypso of "The Distance" feels like it's melting, bending, and breaking right before your ears. Dumb Luck's whimsical arrangements and production tricks are a lot more involved and ornate than Life Is Full of Possibilities' sound was, but these flights of fancy and intentional imperfections are just as much a part of the songwriting as the lyrics and melodies are. Nowhere is this clearer than on the title track, which opens the album with Tamborello's own sweet, self-effacing vocals set against staticky electronics and acoustic guitars that set the tone for the rest of these bruised and intimate songs. The album's subtly but constantly changing backdrops take listeners on a journey: "To a Fault" roams from plucked acoustic guitars to ebbing and flowing tides of electronic noise made all the moodier by layered vocals courtesy of Grizzly Bear's Edward Droste (indeed, "To a Fault" could have easily appeared on Yellow House). Tamborello's palette of singers plays an even more vital role on Dumb Luck than on Life Is Full of Possibilities, with each track playing to the strengths of its guest star. On "Roll On," Jenny Lewis' girlish twang warms up the self-destructing sounds around her; Lali Puna adds just the right detached elegance to "I'd Like to Know"; and Conor Oberst's groggy mumble underscores the hung-over heartbreak of "Breakfast in Bed." "Rock My Boat," which features Mia Doi Todd's caressing vocals, sounds like a lost '70s singer/songwriter classic shot into space, and comes the closest to the seemingly effortless majesty of Life Is Full of Possibilities. Dumb Luck isn't quite as cohesive as Dntel's debut was, but it is beautiful and carefully crafted enough to show that none of Tamborello's successes are flukes.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares