Dntel is the most well-known solo project of Jimmy Tamborello, an American musician who played a major role in bridging the worlds of indie rock and experimental techno. Active since 1994, the project's catalog has encompassed abrasive drill'n'bass experiments, glitchy electro-pop, and ambient abstractions, with the uniting factor being expressive melodies, a childlike sense of wonder and exploration, and meticulous attention to detail. He first made an impact with 2001's critically acclaimed Life Is Full of Possibilities, which merged inventive, glitchy production with indie rock sincerity. One of the album's highlights was "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," a single featuring Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. Tamborello and Gibbard subsequently formed a side project called the Postal Service, and their 2003 album Give Up became enormously successful, eventually selling over a million copies and influencing countless electronic pop acts. Dntel continued in a similar collaboration-heavy direction with subsequent full-lengths Dumb Luck (2007) and Aimlessness (2012). However, he returned to instrumental compositions with later works such as the techno-influenced Human Voice (2014), and mixed ambient textures and loops with folk-influenced lyrics on 2021's The Seas Trees See.
Tamborello began making music in 1989, when he was in junior high school, and he released a self-titled ambient full-length under the name Antihouse in 1994. He attended Los Angeles-based Loyola Marymount University, and was a DJ, music director, and engineer at college radio station KXLU. Starting in 1994, he played bass in a band called Strictly Ballroom (who were often described as "Enocore") in addition to forming synth pop group Figurine, as well as recording solo material as Dntel. The project's first release was Early Works for Me If It Works for You, issued by Phthalo in 1998. The album's songs blended wistful melodies with skittering beats, resembling a lo-fi, American counterpart to British IDM artists like µ-ziq and Autechre. Something Always Goes Wrong, a collection of recordings dating back to 1994, appeared in 2001.
However, Dntel's other 2001 release, the Plug Research-issued Life Is Full of Possibilities, proved to be the project's breakthrough. Applying experimental production techniques and abstract textures to songs sung by guest artists including Mia Doi Todd, Rachel Haden (that dog.), Chris Gunst (Beachwood Sparks), and others, the album helped set the standard for indie electronic music. The set's most well-received song was the Gibbard-sung "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," which was released as a single in 2002 and became a crossover club hit, thanks in part to a remix by techno producer Superpitcher. The song's success led to a proper collaboration between Gibbard and Tamborello, titled the Postal Service, as the two musicians wrote songs by sending each other DAT tapes through the mail. Give Up was issued by Sub Pop in 2003, and ended up being the label's most successful release since Nirvana's Bleach, attaining platinum status. This was partly due to the single "Such Great Heights," which was used in several advertisements and television programs, and covered by numerous artists, most memorably by Iron & Wine on the soundtrack for the 2004 film Garden State.
Despite the success of Give Up, Tamborello and Gibbard didn't jump at the opportunity to record a follow-up. Both artists continued to work on their respective projects. Tamborello released an album titled Spacesettings as part of experimental hip-hop duo Headset in 2004, and fused indie pop with minimal techno on Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake, his 2006 solo effort as James Figurine. Dntel returned with 2007's Sub Pop-issued Dumb Luck, which included returning guest Mia Doi Todd as well as Ed Droste (Grizzly Bear), Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), and others. In 2009, Phthalo issued Early Works for Me If It Works for You II, a triple-CD compiling Dntel's previous releases for the label, as well as an additional disc of material recorded between 1998 and 2003. Remix EP Early Works, Later Versions followed in 2010, while Sub Pop released two instrumental Dntel EPs, After Parties I and II, as well as an expanded tenth anniversary reissue of Life Is Full of Possibilities in 2011.
Aimlessness arrived on DJ Koze's Pampa Records in 2012, featuring guest appearances from Nite Jewel and Baths. The Postal Service reunited in 2013; a tenth anniversary reissue of Give Up sported a disc of rarities as well as two newly recorded songs with Jenny Lewis, and the group embarked on an extensive world tour before permanently disbanding in August. Tamborello continued his solo career as Dntel, with Human Voice appearing on Leaving Records in 2012. Devoid of guest appearances, the album was slightly more dancefloor-oriented than past Dntel releases, while retaining the project's familiar melodic sense. Following a four-year absence, Dntel returned in 2018 with the beatless Hate in My Heart. In 2021, Dntel surfaced on Morr Music with the folk-tinged The Seas Trees See, followed later in the year by the more pop-influenced Away. ~ Paul Simpson