Review Summary: Amon Tobin ventures even further into the abstract, creating a paranormal collage of sound experiments with hardly any percussion or familiarity to grasp.
Amon Tobin, despite being a relatively young artist in the pantheon of electronic music, has seemed to reach the wise old wizard stage of his artistic canon. Tobin’s more recent releases have seen him at his most cerebral, using field recordings and increasingly sophisticated recording and production methods. Having songs featured in blockbuster films, video games, and commercials have done nothing to compromise his artistic ambitions. When Tobin released his last full-length album, Isam
in 2011, it took the real-world samples and field recording techniques from predecessor Foley Room
and manipulated and processed them into a naturalistic, avant-garde way. The album fully cleansed Tobin of the jazzy future-noir spy music he was known for, and was difficult to grasp for many. Aside from the sleepy, extraterrestrial themed Dark Jovian
EP from 2015, Tobin has been mostly quiet since Isam
. The nocturnal Fear in a Handful of Dust
ventures even further into the abstract, building on the foundation of Isam
while dropping most percussive elements and utilizing an electroacoustic style. The vibes hearken to the dark atmospheres of his widely known early work, but Tobin remains free of boundaries once again.
is an elusive record to say the least. There aren’t so much songs as there are formless vignettes of sound design that seem to hover in place. Tobin’s description of the songs in Isam
being “sound sculptures” applies just as fittingly here as well. However, while that was an impressive and unique project, the execution ended up being almost too perfect. Tobin’s skills as a producer and domination over his creations resulted in a highly controlled, restrained effort. Fear
is a different beast altogether, more akin to the sprawling nature and diverse sound design of Foley Room
. Each track roams through various moods, with the album featuring more playful, shifty sounds while being a logical progression from the highly purposeful Isam
. “Freeformed” and most of the tracks in the second half of Fear…
utilize the previous album’s stranger moments for rewarding, glitchy extension of those aesthetics. Even the most eclectic pieces feel like they have breathing room, with much of the record being almost laid back in comparison to the general backbone of Tobin’s musical world.
The significance of allowing more compositional freedom makes for an unpredictable listening experience despite the calmer atmosphere, but it would be too easy to label it willfully obtuse. The atmospheres are dark throughout, the sounds occasionally discordant and noisy, especially “Heart of the Sun,” and conventionality is nowhere to be found. Tension is the focal point, especially in regard to how suspensefully everything plays out. “On A Hilltop Sat the Moon” is a dazzling opener, with layer after layer of melodies snaking around each other as synths contract and expand underneath. “Vipers Follow You” follows and brings these elements into a more claustrophobic, mischievous mood. “Dark as Dogs” is softer, with melancholic, gentle melodies bookended by a noisier intro and outro. “Fooling Alright” is the only track with Tobin’s vocals, warped and distorted beyond recognition or discernible lyrics. The hazy melodies and buzzing electronics convalesce with the alien voices for a truly surreal piece.
feels like a cousin of Amon Tobin’s soundtracks, as the emancipation of his sound has produced rich rewards. Despite the at times formless and meandering nature, most of the tracks possess an urgency and enough interesting instrumentation to keep the journey from veering astray. The albums centerpiece, “Velvet Owl” keeps the momentum going with a pensive, wandering nature emphasizing Tobin’s mastery of manipulating sound and integrating samples. The gorgeous “Pale Forms Run By” is an album highlight, feeling like a moment of catharsis, as if one is being lead into some kind of virtual haunted forest. More than anything, Fear…
sounds like a living, fully functioning organism that doesn’t scare outright but could do anything at any moment. It’s clear that despite his virtuosic level in electronic music, Tobin has learned and grown even more this past decade. He appears to have trusted his instincts and let his wildest artistic ambitions loose and breathe on their own. The mood of Fear in a Handful of Dust
conjures all sorts of imagery, especially of the mysterious. Amon Tobin’s evolution as a writer and producer is felt, having some of the most engaging and depthful moments of his career.