Dntel

Human Voice

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Human Voice Review

by Fred Thomas

Multifaceted electronic musician Jimmy Tamborello crafted a visionary blend of technically proficient electronica and heart-on-the-sleeve indie rock with his Dntel project. Before sculpting the concept of blips and beats with wimpy emo vocals into perfection with the massively popular Postal Service, Tamborello offered up Dntel albums like 2001's groundbreaking Life Is Full of Possibilities, an electronic album heavy with vocal cameos by some of indie rock's most distinctive singers. Dntel laid the groundwork for an entire movement of future artists, and eventually the blurring of the lines between where tuneful, song-minded electronica ended and indie began. Part of this formula was the constant stream of guest vocalists, including collaborations as varied as the now famous work with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard to less immediately recognizable cameos from Jenny Lewis, Nite Jewel, Mia Doi Todd, and many others. The ironically titled Human Voice is unique to his body of work in that it's the first Dntel album to be completely absent of guest vocalists, with the only vocal sounds that crop up being computer-generated and processed into indecipherable digital garble. Stripping the songs of prominently mixed vocals leaves Tamborello's production work in full view, offering an even deeper exposure of the knack for nostalgia, mystery, and youthful joy that lies at the core of his compositions. His always emotive sound stretches into new places throughout the album, taking the form of rubbery experimental house on the fluttering title track and the bright-eyed "Connections"; exploring glitchy samples, live instrumentation, and field recordings on "Bay Loop," and reveling in playful, bell-toned synth noodling on the childlike "Bike Path." Human Voice's finest moment comes in the hyper-catchy "If I Stay a Minute." The track borrows its rolling basslines and skittering hi-hats from the juke scene, but casts cut-up vocal samples and fast-paced snares over a yearning melody that's unmistakably Tamborello's. Human Voice represents an artist's drive to push his work forward, but also retains the signature relationship with melody and emotional presentation that have always set Dntel apart from the rest.

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