Amon Tobin: Out from Out Where

Amon Tobin
Out from Out Where
Ninja Tune

Since his appearance in the mid-'90s, Amon Tobin has released a small handful of sample-heavy classics that were quiet in exposure but loud in statement. Rescuing jazz from the acid doldrums of the day and refurbishing it with a healthy dose of percussive fury, albums like Bricolage and Permutation played havoc with Max Roach-like cymbals and reconfigured basslines into submersible crafts for deep-ambience exploration. But Tobin's latest album might be better compared to the Hitchcock noir of Bernard Herrmann.

Tobin's music is typically both beautiful and sinister, drenched in the type of tension that's tailor-made for suspense films. And Out from Out Where is his most anxiety-provoking album yet. Turn the lights out and lean into the hammer-dulcimer-tinged mechanical orchestration of "El Wraith," and there's a good chance you'll have a bit of a start at the sudden appearance of ghostly whispering voices. "Searchers" is an exercise in symphonic unease, ebbing and flowing over a stalker-paced drumbeat while artificial feline voices cry in the distance. And "Verbal" is a catchy mishmash reminiscent of Meat Beat Manifesto, with its chopped up, distorted rapping going spastic over a faraway, big-beat bassline.

With the added disquiet in Out from Out Where, however, comes a loss of many of the bop-flavored elements that defined Tobin's previous albums. The live instrument samples and swinging rhythms that gave earlier releases the feel of a Village Vanguard show hijacked by androids have been replaced by what sounds like a relentless drive to make music as synthetic-sounding as possible. That's not always a bad thing. But this time, such artificial noises don't seem to come naturally to Tobin. The epileptic chirps of "Triple Science" and the popcorn-in-a-Tesla-coil skitter of "Chronictronic" are exciting, but their electronic percussion poses a problem. The live drum samples on Tobin's previous releases gave them a magnificently dissonant quality that's lacking in this album's unsurprising robotic booms and clanks.

Tobin has always excelled in bringing esoterica into a more familiar setting, writing up the ideal blueprint for cinematic ambience. He's taking a huge leap into the unknown and giving listeners a severe case of vertigo. But if Tobin has a fear of heights, it's only because he's reached the top floor.

 
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