Review Summary: Tobin takes the sprawling nature of 2007's Foley Room and puts a leash on it
It’s almost hard to believe that when we gather around and start to rattle off the names of some of the most influential electronic artists of our heyday that Amon Tobin should be one of the first to gather a mention. Not because he doesn’t deserve a place next to the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada, but because here we are, well and truly settled into the new century and Tobin is still here along with us, testing our consciousness every chance he gets. Sure, we’ve still (technically) got DJ Shadow and his rooms stacked to the ceilings with vinyls wrapped up in their dog-eared seals, but even though we’ve got a new long player due out from him before the end of the year he’ll still never be that
DJ Shadow ever again. And even though Shadow hasn’t quite gone the way of the dodo just yet, and his vinyl collection remains, always edging closer to winning itself a Guinness world record, we have Tobin on his hands and knees down in the dirt, recording the sounds of a hundred ants marching in their endless work-a-day shuffle. And like another piece to the constantly mutating puzzle do they re-appear hidden in the labyrinth, buffeted by a hundred other various sounds and bytes, chewed up and spat out into a hybrid of apocalyptic backdrops and beats constantly being cut off at the knees.
This idea of Amon Tobin as a field recorder first appeared in his last proper studio album, 2007’s critically-acclaimed Foley Room
. Hacking away at every conceivable sample known to man, Tobin let loose an album grandiose in imagination and heavy in the unexplainable. A tangled and gritty mess of sounds and permeations with no obvious borders or anchors to keep it in check, he divided audiences more akin to his slightly saner trip hop output. On ISAM
he continues to traverse this route, but he reels everything back a fraction, and allows for a more subtle progression to unfurl in amongst the chaos. Here he manipulates his sounds within something resembling a confined space, his fury quietly exploding within four walls barely fit to contain the maelstrom. Normality appears in a number of spots, most noticeably in Tobin’s frantic interpretation of dubstep in ‘Goto 10’. He meshes his Autechre-like broken down rave with wall of sound percussion and furious waves of molten bass, constantly assimilating themselves over the more structurally sound backdrop, like waves breaking against the jagged rocks of a turbulent waterfront.
There’s a true sense of adventure here, as Tobin, now bereft of any truly definable tag draws in a variety of various ideas and styles to pepper his aural psychosis. ‘Lost and Found’ unravels itself into a jagged lullaby, samples sped up and then rewound back over fluttering guitars. ‘Wooden Toy’ carries a serene kind of charm to it; there’s a playful bounce to its non-existent step, a kind of mildly flirtatious intoxication buried in its depths. This wide-eyed joy re-appears in ‘Kitty Cat’, except it’s even more welcoming and warm here, as Tobin provides himself with some breathing room by calling in some precious and fragile guest vocals; he rides this more user friendly approach for all it’s worth, inviting chimes and whistles slowly accompany the vocals, occasionally giving way for a casual synth line or two to peacefully wade across the calm waters Tobin leaves for them. But it’s in the closing track, ‘Dropped From The Sky’ where we find the technician playing at his most relaxed and satisfied, with his shimmering finale calling to mind recent excursions by his more glitchy counterparts. His closer reels out torrent after torrent of acid waterfalls, pure sheets of electronic rain bucket down over his decidedly calm and coy tapestry, bringing comparisons to the likes of Hudson Mohawke or anyone from Planet Mu playing at their most provocative.
the Brazilian native has crafted one of the most stunning and truly exciting albums of the year, but also one of his most subtle. Tobin’s made a living out of defying expectations and showing just what can be accomplished with nothing more than a computer and a few well-chosen tricks hidden up his sleeve, but here, where he’s chosen to not dumb anything down but instead to dial it all back a bit, he masks the ingenuity he’s long been known for. On first listen you’re not truly floored until the pummel of ‘Goto 10’ literally forces you out of your seat, but his fidgety dexterity and obvious inability to remain still hides itself well amongst the refinement. But Amon’s almost magic-like trickery is never too far below the surface, and a little scratching provides the almost endless mazes that have earned him the praise of many. In continuing to break down boundaries, Tobin’s latest has once again pushed him into a realm of forward-thinking occupied by so few. ISAM
is not only just a welcome return, but another minor triumph for the man who refuses to sit still.