Out from Out Where
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samples and swinging rhythms that gave earlier releases the feel of a Village Vanguard show hijacked by androids have been replaced by what sounds like a relentless drive to make music as synthetic-sounding as possible.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.