Mistake, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake
top me if you’ve heard this one before. There was a tour with Lali Puna. Maybe there was a van; maybe it was a Volkswagen. Do they really treat Fords like luxury mobiles in Europe? If so, it could have been a Taurus. But there were automobiles involved, and the speakers in those autos knew sound, and Jimmy Tamborello—aka Dntel aka half of Postal Service aka James Figurine—fell in love with minimal techno. Well, so did we all, but now Mr. Tamborello has stepped out minus his former partners David and Meredith of Figurine to make his minimal debut. Or so goes the tale.
If you’re to believe press releases, minimal techno is apparently code for “longer than necessary.” Mistake, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake (yes, that’s four and the repetition may be all you need to know) is more of Tamborello’s trademarked sad sack electro-pop, albeit with longer instrumentals to dilute his talents for quikwired melody. Instead of the relatively concise songs of Transportation +Communication=Love and The Heartfelt, Tamborello’s incorporated the extended song structures of minimal into his newer constructs without the genre’s scope for subtle detailing and nuanced alteration. Even with help from John Tejada, who’s on board here for mixing duties as well as aiding in the arrangements, “Ruining the Sundays” is a great example of the album’s willful excess; its five minutes of synth-heavy tech-pop adds an unnecessary ambient withdrawal to pluck over the six minute mark. There’s little evolution to keep you attuned, or even the spine of a tangible groove, and as such the song becomes a waiting game against its own end.
For the most part, these instrumental moments find Tamborello marathoning, more than jogging, in place. “You Again” adds only Jenny Lewis’ suede hum to a mixer of static and clunky beats that distract more than engage, while “White Ducks” is a rave-up twirl with the shades drawn and the DJ nodding off twixt shots of Full Throttle, as it changes its mind three times between minimal gurgle and stomping synth-vamp. Aborted and malformed, it’s a confusion that makes as little sense on the home system as on the ‘floor.
In fact, Tamborello distorts even his pop songs. “One More Regret” layers James Figurine’s cottoned voice through circular synth patterns and pebbled analogue tones before losing the track’s hazy narrative amidst a monotonous tonal pattern and crushed cymbal beats. Even the promising “Let’s Pretend It’s a Race and I’m On Your Side,” with guest vocalist Morgan Meyn Nagier, grinds her gorgeous diva-strut intro into a stale vocal-loop. Instead of allowing Nagier to reign against the backdrop, to separate the elements and allow each of them their moment, Tamborello mashes them into his own composition, and thus wastes the track’s most compelling voice by pulling it taut.
But perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you. Tamborello’s past effort at expanding his sound (Headset, anyone?) have often fallen wide of the mark. He’s a nuance of antiquity; he’s at his best when he’s doing things, albeit it very well, that have been done before, if not for a few years. That’s why Postal Service is a punch-line for the post-aughts; a record like that doesn’t get played out without hitting hard the thoughtless first few listens. Namely, Tamborello and Gibbard were graced with the simplistic grift of melody, something Mistake, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake often sacrifices in the name of evolution.
Mistake, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake has charming moments—check the opener, “55566688833,” with Tamborello providing the deadtone vocals over a jingling electro-pop crush, more than vaguely reminiscent of Postal Service and the past work of Figurine, or the lovely faded relationship tale of “Leftovers,” in which Tamborello wonders just which unoffered gifts would have prevented his love from leaving over gutted-clock beats and warbling electronic tones (don’t check, however, the microwaved tranquille-soul of “All the Way to China,” starring King of Convenience-cum-Whitest Boy Alive Erlend Øye). But they’re usually swallowed up by the adorning excess. Even the vocal-based tracks, a place he could formerly lay his hat, see Tamborello’s self-reliance paying a cost. Without Meredith Figurine to balance against the straight tones of his own voice, and with only scant contributions from Jenny Lewis and others, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake, Mistake sees ole James left all rebel and no cause.