Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amon Tobin: ISAM

     Check out this album cover for a start. I've found the biggest size and sharpest resolution out there, and frankly, it's beautiful. Digital release-wise, there's another with a butterfly on it, but I think I like this one more. I thought I'd review Amon Tobin, seeing as we've covered a pretty experimental artist today already, and this album, 'ISAM' is pretty recent. I first got into the Brazilian musician/producer after listening to the millennium record, 'Supermodified, which is often cited as his most accessible release. Looking back further though, to 97's 'Brigoldae' and even the relatively unknown 96' effort 'Adventures in Foam', you can definitely see the change in style from them to this. One thing that he's managed to retain and refine however, is his use of sampled sound. One of his more intriguing records for me, is 'Foley Room', an album recorded entirely in this manner, creating a style more or less completely his own. 'ISAM' is his latest effort, released a couple of months ago, and certainly conforms to this self-built image. As such, some of his greatest work is on here, but there is one major flaw. The first two thirds are excellent, but the last stretch falters a little too much. It's not cripplingly bad, but it reveals a cuter side to the music that for me at least, feels out of place and slightly uncomfortable.
     With his early releases, Tobin started to define drum and bass, but I found that one of the most enjoyable elements to his music for me, was his work with jazz. Instead of fusing jazz and electronic like say, Squarepusher though, Tobin went and took samples straight from jazz music, which ended up sounding pretty cool. What I can safely say however, is that this record is completely different. It's so far out and experimental, lacking in both accessibility and simplicity, I'd venture to say this is a very difficult album to 'get'. Even with myself being a fan of Tobin's discography, it took me a couple of months to grasp the concepts within 'ISAM'. Despite this, when you do reach that level of understanding, the feeling is incredible and certainly well worth the struggle required to reach that peak.
      I'm actually amazed by this album. Tobin is in his own words, sculpting sounds, rather than songs, and the production and quality of the texture makes for sonic mind-bending when listened through some good quality headphones. Although the jazz is gone, and although the drum and bass is gone, the sound here remains as fresh as some of his earlier output. 'Journeyman' kicks of the album with the biggest and most varied collection of sampled field-recordings you'll ever hear. Alien eggs hatch from bubbling, gurgling pods. Delicate tinkling and fluctuating scuttles. The depth of the track varies as well, from the in your face melodies to the background ticks and knocks. The sound isn't overly oppressive, but you're thrown into the unknown, surrounded by an eerily dark fog.
     Out of the mist float ghosts, wailing and moaning. Noises flutter and emerge before flying back into darkness. This really is a musical experience, if ever I saw one. The again, very alien and advanced technological sounds of 'Goto 10' are outstanding. Doors open and landing pads fall. Lights flicker and clouds of pressurised gas escape. You can almost visualise the aliens approaching, serene and magnificent and frightening. 'Surge' incorporates some racing car sounds at the start, and a strange vintage atmosphere smothers the rest of the track. This leads into another: 'Lost & Found'. The building of sound and the saddening singing of a solemn female mark this out as a conceptual masterpiece, focusing on the mortality of humans through the immortality of life itself.
     Skipping past the abstract vocals on 'Wooden Toy', we come to the last third of the album. 'Kitty Cat'. The vocals are very pop-like, even through the slightly creepy air that smothers the track. In Tobin's defence, he does try and make this change in style flow, through 'Calculate's soothing ticking and happier feel, but it just doesn't work. In truth, 'Kitty Cat' and 'Bedtime Stories' aren't bad songs on their own, but in the context of the album I personally don't feel as though the contrasting atmospheres compliment each other very well at all. That being said, Tobin manages to retain throughout this record, a consistent professionalism that feels confident in itself and the noise it produces. Even though I'm not in love with the last third as much as I am with the start, I appreciate the quality of the music. Trust me when I say that this is a very hard album to fully comprehend, but if you manage to eventually do so, the reward is like nothing you've ever beheld. So persevere, listen again, and prepare to stare into the heart of sound itself.

'Goto 10'