Tobias.: Leaning Over Backwards
Ostgut Ton

Ostgut Ton's been on a remarkable roll of late, with recent releases by Shed, Steffi, and Scuba establishing the Berlin label as one of today's go-to electronic imprints. That roll comes to somewhat of a halt with tobias.'s debut album for the label, Leaning Over Backwards (also his full-length debut under the tobias. name), however, as it's a release that's not at the level of others in Ostgut Ton's catalogue. Often the album's material comes across as working sketches that the producer might conceivably have produced so as to eventually use them towards tracks of more memorable character. That's all the more disappointing given that the producer involved, Tobias Freund, has been a strong presence in the electronic dance community for many years. A veteran with releases on labels such as Dial, Balance, and Perlon, Freund's music career began in 1980 with the purchase of a Korg MS-20 and a day job as a recording engineer (his two decades behind the boards involved work with Milli Vanilli and Meat Loaf); he also invested much time and energy into two projects, Pink Elln (alongside Atom Heart aka Uwe Schmidt) and Sieg Über Die Sonne (a duo with Dandy Jack aka Martin Schopf).

The opening track, “Girts,” is indicative of the problem in that though it promisingly bolts from the gate with a bulldozing flow, little happens thereafter by way of development other than some minor alterations in sound design. Also wanting is “Party Town,” which weds vocals from Aerea Negrot (from Hercules & Love Affair) to a thumping pulse but quickly grows tiresome when its piano chord repeats ad nauseum and the vocal amounts to nothing more than riffs on the song's title. The driving techno of the club banger “Skippy” also would be more palatable were it not dragged down by the incessant vocal utterance of the song's title (Margaret Dygas is credited with “loop machine”). Elsewhere, Freund tries his hand at sculpting kosmische drone atmospheres in “Observing the Hypocrites” to moderately successful effect, and the pairing of voice recording and rhythm track in “Zero Tolerance” recalls the kind of material Robin Rimbaud created more than a decade ago when he captured the voices of telephone callers and dispatch operators with his scanning device. The album isn't without a few decent moments, though they're not plentiful. A shape-shifting, synth-sweetened house banger served up in a succinct four-minute running time, “The Key,” featuring Uwe Schmidt, stands out as one of the album's better tracks, for example.

If there is something to recommend the release, it's Freund's high-wire approach to music production, one that sees him generating 808 patterns in real time and using his chosen gear—the Roland TR-808 and 909, hardware sequencers, vintage analog or modular synthesizers, and outboard effects—as a vehicle for spontaneous exploration. As a result, some small measure of interest is generated during “Voices Told Me to Do That” by the unpredictability of the gear Freund used for the project, specifically an 808 and Korg Mini Pops (the computer was used purely as a recording device for Leaning Over Backwards ). The downside of a recording that's rooted in jam sessions involving beats and FX units is that there's no absolute guarantee that anything truly memorable will emerge from such sessions. There's just not enough of interest going on in some of the album's pieces to warrant their release, and the thought of returning to them for repeated listens is remote indeed.

August 2011