Amon Tobin: Foley Room
Ninja Tune

Amon Tobin's modus operandi may have changed on Foley Room with the Brazilian-born and now Montreal-based provocateur using samples of field recorded elements for source material instead of vinyl samples, but the sound remains pure Tobin. Inspired by the Foley artists who create sound effects for films, Tobin and a team of assistants trolled the streets with high-sensitivity microphones to record all manner of unusual sounds—roaring tigers, ants eating grass and cats eating rats, machinery, kitchen utensils, people singing in their bathtubs—to use as raw material for the album's dozen compositions.

Foley Room opens with the macabre overture “Bloodstone” whose creepy strings (courtesy of The Kronos Quartet) and tinkling piano runs make it sound like a Viennese chamber outfit's soundtrack for the original Phantom of the Opera —until, that is, Tobin's percussive battalion takes the stage. Here and elsewhere, his tracks are often brooding in character as well as heavily percussive: pounding tom-tom patterns deepen the menacing voodoo vibe of “Keep Your Distance” while “Kitchen Sink” weaves rimshots, bells, vibes accents, and myriad shrapnel into a compelling setting of syncopated jazz. Tobin's material is also often epic (“At the End of the Day”), tumultuous (“Foley Room”), and sometimes so dense it verges on cacophonous: “Ever Falling” opens gently with hymnal voices humming like a choral group from Smile but quickly escalates when a funk bass line trades riffs with a rambunctious drum soloist. The trippy “Big Furry Head” pushes the psychedelic envelope even further, as Tobin's signature ten-ton beats lurch like a ten-story bulldozer while lions roar and insects buzz. The closest thing to a single, “Always” marries sing-song hooks and a clattering funk groove to vocal chirps and “London Calling”-inflected guitar stabs. As raucous as the album is, it's not always so: “Horsefish” spotlights Tobin's cinematic side, as harp swirls gradually coalesce into a bluesy theme that's picked up by electric guitar and strings.

Anyone desperate for some radical change in his sound will be disappointed; rabid Tobin devotees, on the other hand, will hear the recording as a thoroughly solid addition to his growing catalogue. In another's hands, the project might have turned into a hermetic exercise in avant-garde self-indulgence but Tobin's work remains dynamic and combusts with energy. Distant traces of drum'n'bass, punk rock, and jazz can be glimpsed but the music is ultimately Tobin, pure and simple. (An 18-minute accompanying DVD provides insight into the album's making by showing Tobin, recording gear on hand, visiting various locales and compiling his diverse array of sound sources.)

April 2007