Review Summary: The Master Thief
I’ve always had a penchant for sampling. The skill of mashing up countless dozens of obscure records into something greater than the sum of its parts fascinates me.
All the classic hip hop of the 90’s relied on extensive sampling; tunes by such visionaries as The Bomb Squad and DJ Shadow have gone down in history as master classes in plunderphonics - but the ubiquitous Amon Tobin took it to a whole other level.
Not content with mashing together various riffs and melodies, he used the technology just appearing in the mid 90’s to destroy songs, erase the line between sampling and composition and improve rusty melodies to the extent that entirely new and unrecognizable pieces could arise from a boxful of dusty vinyls.
Casting a wide net over the aural ocean he pulled in jazz, lounge and world music driftwood that was then moulded skilfully into masterpieces such as Bricolage and Permutation. Supermodified, his fourth album and arguably the apex of his career to that point is a melting point of different genres and styles that nonetheless retains the signature Tobin vibe – dark, groovy and at times unbearably sexy. But what else could you expect from a Brazilian?
The unique tone of the music helps give the album a continuity it may have lost at the hands of a less talented artist – plodding drums interweave seamlessly with slinky fusion basslines, whilst electronics bleep and sweep all before them. Subtle violins hum in the background, and a soothing sine wave fills out the sound spectrum in perfect harmony. Then breakbeats come in on top of cacophonous saxophones and you realize why sampling is an art of genius; it gives the artist the ability to mix together sounds that no self respecting composer would dare touch for fear of sounding contrived and ridiculous. Tobin, on the other hand, delves deep into unmarked crates and pulls out jigsaw pieces that he then fits together with such consummate skill you are left spellbound.
Trip hop? Lounge jazz? Call it what you want. This is simply one of those albums that showed the world what one could do with unappreciated or forgotten music – resurrect it and reshape it into masterful compositions that have the lifeblood not only of the Sampler but also the original artist flowing through it, giving it unrivalled aural power. Tobin’s sampled works are the link in the chain between Endtroducing and Since I Left You; acknowledged masterpieces that are amongst the best albums ever.
Amon Tobin simply took the art of sampling to another level, and Supermodified further cements his place on the podium alongside other luminaries of the sampling world.