Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune/Border) CD REVIEW

October 9, 2014

AMON TOBIN is, without a doubt, one of the most distinctive contemporary composers working in the electronic medium. Despite the seemingly vast palette open to those who choose to make their music via the wizardry of computer technology, there’s often a deadening generic aspect to the resulting recordings. Somehow, Tobin (bless him) has avoided that, right from his debut project Adventures In Foam (1996) under the name Cujo.
On that first album, Tobin approached the art of sampling in a very visual way, creating spooky sonic pictures from unidentified fragments of other people’s records. These days, he works with computer technology, and makes his own samples, which he twists into all sorts of odd shapes.
By the extraordinary 2007 album Foley Room, Tobin had shorn himself of any real associations with faddish music movements. While early efforts were connected, tangentially at least, with drum’n’bass, that album was all about sound design, and I couldn’t help wondering why he wasn’t making good money in motion pictures.
Isam continues along this vein with an even more adventurous concept that’s geared towards marrying his state-of-the-art audio with visual corollaries in stage shows. It’s incredibly accomplished, completely creates its own world outside of any electronic music paradigm, and there’s something very wide-screen and filmic and even orchestral about the whole project. So much so, that I couldn’t help thinking how great Tobin would sound on a Tim Burton movie, rather than those ghastly swelling strings he tends to use. The thing is, Tobin hasn’t lost the queasy, uneasy, fear factor in his music, and despite its ambition, there’s no hint of Hollywood mush in this music.
The only thing preventing Isam from being the album it could be is it’s somewhat episodic, fragmentary nature. There’s plenty of joy and wonder, but it’s an album to be dipped into rather than demolished in one listen, because he simply never establishes the kind of musical narrative that – as a fan of concept albums – I need to hold me in my seat.
Still, wonderful stuff, as always from Mr Tobin. GARY STEEL

Music = 4/5
Sound = 4/5

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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