Amon Tobin
How Do You Live


3.9
excellent


Release Date: 09/24/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Amon Tobin: Greatest Hits (III)

Does Amon Tobin have anything left to prove? Once a key player among plunderphonic artists, now a lone wolf prowling IDM on his own terms, and forever armed with one of the smoothest senses of groove in any medium, the man’s one of the most reliable names in electronic. His work since 2007’s Foley Room has tended towards the abstract: 2011’s ISAM suggested a dizzying range of new paths for his modulation of samples and found sounds, while the respective sound sculptures and soundscapes of 2019’s Fear In A Handful Of Dust and Long Stories teased out a select few of those possibilities to their most distant conclusions. Each of these seemed to expand Tobin’s frontiers in their way, yet his latest album How Do You Live draws lines between the leaps its predecessors made from one another, and gathers their strengths into an assertion of dominance. It’s a robust story-so-far for the current era of Amon Tobin, perfectly poised to delight returning fans, while offering new listeners a generous amount of space to orientate themselves.

The shape of this album is, in the most organic sense, that of old bones refashioned under fresh skin: it packs a decade’s worth of work into forty-five minutes without losing any of their precision or vitality. The journey runs much the same course as it did from 2011 thru 2020: this record’s sequencing aligns quite curiously with the chronology of its parent works. We hear this early on in the single “Rise to Ashes”, which calls back to ISAM’s most volatile contortions on the likes of “Goto 10” and “Dropped From The Sky”, while the following “Sweet Inertia” integrates a rare vocal feature into a more downbeat take on the same matrix. Further on, the run from “In the Valley Stood the Sun” to “Now Future” is practically a direct successor to Fear In A Handful Of Dust’s eerie glitch, weaving that style into ever more skittery rhythmic skeletons and spreading its ambiguous pairings of tension and nostalgia across alien soundscapes; finally, the closing pairing of “Black As The Sun” and “All Things Burn” takes Long Stories’ ambient palette to new heights of intrigue.

I don’t know what’s seems less likely: the least accessible phase of Amon Tobin’s career getting an all-original greatest hits package, or the package in question feeling like such a natural next step. Long Stories and Fear In A Handful Of Dust seemed to split Tobin’s stylistic progression both ways across a stylistic fork in the road, and so it’s undeniably satisfying to hear both strands united so cohesively under one release. But beyond that, no greatest hits is completely without a couple of unexpected treats. First among these is the opening title-track; if the album as a whole represents a whole arm of its creator’s corpus, then this track a microcosm of a microcosm, flexing every guise of his current arsenal with alternating shows of minimalism and muscle. The opening progression is almost brutally simplistic, crudely see-sawing across a single semitone before stabilising into a graceful pair of chords that spend the rest of the track in conflict with perhaps the most threatening percussion we’ve heard on a Tobin album in years. This is all held together by a spiralling Phrygian motif that teases various possibilities of the unknown each time it appears, only to give way to familiar strengths. As far as repurposing established sounds to catch the listener off-guard goes, this track is exemplary.

The other standout is the most timelessly Tobin piece here. “Phaedra” swaps glitch for groove, dishing out a sleek cruise that would have felt equally at home on either Foley Room or ISAM, though its trip-hop -ready bassline and noirish guitar samples go all the way back to Bricolage. If “How Do You Live” is a well-placed introduction to Tobin’s current era, “Phaedra” is practically a calling card to his entire style. Both tracks are foci of an impression teased at various points by the rest of the record: this is the first Tobin record since Foley Room that makes for a viable entry point to his discography as a whole. They are both highly representative of things that Tobin has always done well, and the record’s compilatory layout seems ideal as a primer to the various releases it maintains a dialogue with.

How Do You Live also fares rather positively in comparison to its predecessors within what it does their terms. On all returning palettes, there’s a sense that Tobin is refining rather than reiterating, often to noticeable effect: “Button Down Fashion Bow”, for instance, shifts between increments of suspense far more fluidly than any of Fear In A Handful Of Dust’s meandering cuts, while “Black As The Sun” drops a delightfully unexpected percussive barrage as a Gordian knot-style solution to Long Stories’ often lacking stakes. This album’s architecture and construction are as on point as ever; Tobin’s ear for timbre and groove, not to mention production talents, are so established as to be taken for granted at this point. As far back as 1998’s Permutation, the most salient points of criticism to be landed on his records come down to direction rather than execution.

To that end, I feel that How Do You Live makes a slightly weaker statement on its own terms. Very little here feels like a revelation; it’s an innovative album within individual tracks, but it’s reluctant to challenge its audience to identify Tobin’s fundaments and departures within it in the same way that any of its source works pulled off so boldly. There’s a certain reassurance in feeling like you get it first time round for a change, but so much of those past records’ allure lay in the impression of an artist holding half his cards out of sight. This is hardly fatal as detractions go, but it makes me struggle to see How Do You Live claiming any crowns from its strongest comparable works; ISAM’s mercurial brilliance retains a particular advantage. My hope is that we’ll look back on this album’s summative qualities in a similar light to 2002’s Out From Out Where’s final victory lap for his spy-music era and the sampling methodology thereof, but this would be contingent on whatever comes next making the same kind of pronounced departure as Foley Room. Are we now primed for another new era of Tobin? Who’s to say? The man may play faithfully by his own rulebook here, but the tricks he lays down sound as great as they ever have.




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user ratings (21)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 26th 2021


42968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

pedestrian write, sorry gang. am very ready to not write on a new record for another month or so, and wanted to bang this out while i had the energy left

this fucks but ISAM fucked harder idk

Digging: Lali Puna - Scary World Theory

Demon of the Fall
September 26th 2021


21620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

True. This is an impressive return to form for me. I struggle with his post-ISAM material but maybe this will be the catalyst to ignite new love.

parksungjoon
September 26th 2021


38581 Comments


woah

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 26th 2021


42968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

yes indeed

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
September 26th 2021


8859 Comments


Sweet will read soon but bet this is great (the rev? the record?)

parksungjoon
September 26th 2021


38581 Comments


anon binto

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2021


42968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

the albumo

parksungjoon
September 27th 2021


38581 Comments


Idk Who The Fuck Steve Albumo Is

Demon of the Fall
September 27th 2021


21620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Kruder & Dorfmeister's '1995' has been recommended by the reviewer.

Good.

Project
September 27th 2021


5244 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yeah i'm only three tracks in and if nothing else the production is masterful

nightbringer
September 27th 2021


2349 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I'll give this another go but I found this a little cheesy on first listen.

WalrusTusk
September 27th 2021


1063 Comments


This is probably a dumb question, but is this actually a greatest hits album or a reworking or previous material?

parksungjoon
September 27th 2021


38581 Comments


new material

Relinquished
September 27th 2021


47222 Comments


it’s new material

Lord(e)Po)))ts
September 27th 2021


67190 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Stopped reading when you called amon tobin plunderphonics

Demon of the Fall
September 27th 2021


21620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

14 words in. Short attention span then Potsy?

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2021


42968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

the guarantee of pots not making it to the end of this was probably a top 7 motivation for writing it

and no it is not a greatest hits album (imagine reviewing an actual greatest hits comp and then using the summary "Greatest Hits" jfc my self-respect ain't that low)

Relinquished
September 27th 2021


47222 Comments


forreal tho why use that term on this dude

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2021


42968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

isn't re. this (big no-no agreed), is re. early tobin (guessing pots crashed right through that "Once")

would appreciate a little more detail as to what about pre-foley tobin fails to qualify as plunderphonics if that's the issue here



ed. lmao i'm dumb, did you mean greatest hits?

Relinquished
September 27th 2021


47222 Comments


yeah that



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