Amon Tobin CD review [Ninja Tune]

Music Reviews
Amon Tobin CD review [Ninja Tune]
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May 22, 2007, 02:41

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AMON TOBIN The Foley Room CD

Up until now, Tobin was known as a master studio manipulator so skilled in mutating samples that their original sources were rendered invisible. There was no reliance upon easy funk loops—as used/abused by Fatboy Slim, The Wiseguys, or Propellerheads—on Tobin albums like Supermodified or Out from Out Where. Instead Tobin wrote semi-cinematic songs that might wrap choppy hip-hop vox and piano plonks around heavy boot-clomp rhythms. Or he could sift jazz trumpet leads through a weave of acoustic and synthetic textures, then tack a drum'n'bass beat on top to keep things shuffling along. Or, if Tobin were feeling dreamy instead of dancey, he'd bend orchestral strings around creamy ambient ahhhs and cheeky Esquivel zithers, with only a minimal timpani pulse to keep you from zoning into a psychedelic mindstate.

With his entry into The Foley Room, however, Tobin decided to skip using pre-existing samples and manually record his own instruments and SFX. (An included DVD shows Tobin in the field and studio, microphone in hand as he gets the sounds down.) The result is an album that sounds richer and more alive than ever—there's a depth of tone that is immersive and warm. “Esther's” recreates Dick Dale by way of DJ Spooky, with “Misirlou”-style cyberguitar leads dueling illbient pianos and motorcycle engine zooms. “The Killer's Vanilla” sees Tobin hacking up some live drums via sequencer while retro roller-rink organs hum in lazy, circling swirls like steampunk pleasure droids on a casual Sunday outing. The title track features more skittish drum hackery, plus additional percussive clanks and, according to the liner notes, “insects, processed trains, robots and machinery…manipulated beyond recognition.” (Which is basically to say that it sounds like Naked City's Joey Baron jamming with Aphex Twin's Richard D. James.) And “Always” pairs electric-bass funk with cheesy cocktail-lounge chorus vox and the album's biggest beats to create a cross-genre collage not dissimilar to Steroid Maximus.

Befitting its title, The Foley Room resembles the sonic backing track for a lost film (perhaps set somewhere between exotic 1960s Polynesia and the landing bay of Moon Base Alpha). Individually, the songs are evocative; as a whole, however, the album sometimes lacks cohesion and can fade into clouds of pure sound without enough gravity to hold them together. Hence The Foley Room feels more crafted than composed, more like a brilliant technical assemblage than the work of an inspired songwriter. Lacking bold or repetitive melodic motifs, it sometimes serves better as a mood-setter than a stand-alone composition. It's not quite electronic pop music. It's not quite experimental. Call it techno-concrète—and listen at high volume for maximum atmospheric effect. Headphones definitely recommended. [Ninja Tune]

-J Graham

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