Early Works For Me If It Works For You II

For some musicians looking back at their earliest work is like sitting down with your mom and girlfriend to look at pictures of your potty training. But others enjoy the opportunity to show how much they’ve grown. Jimmy Tamborello, a.k.a. Dntel, seems to be the type who would relish the trip down memory lane. He dug into his closet and compiled the three-disc retrospective Early Works For Me If Works For You II. The collection is a re-release and re-mastering of his first two records, 1998’s Early Works For Me If It Works You and 2000’s Something Always Goes Wrong, as well as a disc of unreleased tracks cleverly titled Early Works For Me If It Works For You II.

If you wonder why you should care about three CDs from a dude you may have never heard of, perhaps you know Tamborello from his side gig as half of the Postal Service. While Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard is the “star” of the group, equal credit should be given to Tamborello’s glitchy electronic backing that managed to be both completely organic and machine-like at the same time. However, with that in mind, this collection may not be what you’re looking for to fix that Postal Service jones. The early Dntel records are all instrumental save for some vocal samples here and there. While not a 180 from his current work, if pop tunes are what you’re looking for you’d be better served with 2001’s Life Is Full of Possibilities.

As an overview to his early career, there isn’t a better representation than this weirdly backward musical evolution. The set is presented in reverse release order, but it’s chronological as far as recording dates. Something Always Goes Wrong is the first disc in the set, recorded in 1994 but not released until 2000. It’s the most focused of the set, mixing a deadpan sense of humor—all the song titles read like a scenes from an adventure movie, (“In Which Our Hero Begins His Long and Arduous Quest” and “In Which Our Hero Is Decapitated By The Evil King,” for example)—and a good sense of restraint. Tamborello keeps the songs interesting without feeling the need to throw everything into the mix. He also knows how to build a track without being too showy, and the songs work as well as his vocal work.

Early Works For Me If It Works For You shows a similar sense of restraint, but it also shows a heavy Warp Records and Aphex Twin influence. The use of cut-up tempos and distorted drums are totally mid-90s Aphex, but where Richard D. James is more foreboding and menacing at times, Tamborello is slightly less aggressive. It’s not a bad thing, but you can definitely tell to whom he was listening at the time.

The unreleased disc, Early Works For Me If It Works For You II, is the weakest part of the set, but that’s really only in comparison. Featuring songs recorded between 1998 and 2003, it’s feels like a works-in-progress sampler. Since the tracks weren’t meant for release, they aren’t as polished or as focused. Still there are gems mixed in, and you can see how Tamborello moved from his early days to where his is now.

While three discs may seem like a bit too much to digest, Dntel’s latest collection shows no signs of embarrassment across its look at the past.
Dorian S. Ham