Dntel is Jimmy Tamborello’s electronic alias. In most circles, Dntel is best known as the techno part of The Postal Service (to Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s Emo part). Early Works for Me If It Works for You II sounds a bit different from The Postal Service, as it is a collection of Dntel’s early instrumental work. As such it less poppy, with a more ambient sound, less immediate melodies.
That does not make the difference radical. The songs here are also presented in layers. Bursts of drum machines base the songs. Simple, mournful synths drone the songs’ melodies in short stabs. Dissonance builds barely noticeably in the background. Counterpoint melodies sometimes lie on top; sometimes they replace the original melodies. The elements drift in and out. One or two elements remain constant while the others change. There is definite repetition, but the many elements change often enough to keep it interesting for full song lengths.
Disc 1 is Something Always Goes Wrong, Dntel’s original demo tape. He had not yet formed his unique style; there are fewer of his unique song trappings. The majority of tracks on this disc are paint-by-numbers electronica. The album highlight is “S.O.S” a driving song with a distorted drumbeats and hiccupping synths. Not only is it simply a great groove, it hints at the expansion of Dntel’s sound in the future.
Disc 2 is Early Works for Me If It Works For You, Dntel’s first official album. Dntel came more into his own on this album, his signature sound began to appear. That being said, the two highlights on this disc are a bit of anomalies. “Fort Instructions” and “Danny Loves Experimental Electronics” would not feel out of place on a DJ Shadow album with their strong beats, multiple drum tracks, and stopping and starting. These tracks are the closest to hip-hop of Dntel’s work and their energy pops out on the disc.
Disc 3 is a collection of unreleased material that is titled here Early Works For Me If It Works for You II. The material is the rough tracks that were not polished into Life Is Full of Possibilities, Dntel’s breakout album. Dntel had completely adopted his own style by this time and this disc has the most varied and most experimental work of the collection.
On “Paul Guitar”, a gently picked guitar is contrasted to a breakneck, distorted drum machine. Vocals appear on this disc occasionally. The best example of vocal work is “Don’t Try”. There is little singing, it is mostly repeating “You just don’t try” but the vocals mesh perfectly with the rhythm and melody. “Bluegrass (Short)” is most experimental track. Short snippets of stuttering electronic voices layer over a sea-like background. It could, and should be incredibly annoying. Dntel pushes the gimmick to exactly the right place to prevent that.
Other highlights on the third disc include “Fancy Ian” and “Ender”. These tracks sound like prototypes for The Postal Service songs.
As a whole, this is a strong, consistent collection of electronica. Only a few of the tracks drag on too long and become boring. The songs on the first disc and second disc do blend, but taking the discs’ a track at time, there are few weak tracks. Disc 3 is the most hit-and-miss, but it is mostly hit.
If you are looking to delve into Dntel’s back catalog this is the perfect package. For those who only know him from The Postal Service, they may want to check out his more vocal heavy work first. This music is perfect for driving, chilling, or background music for anyone.