splendid > reviews > 10/10/2002
Amon Tobin
Amon Tobin
Out From Out Where
Ninja Tune

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Back From Space"

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Regardless of whether Tobin intended it as such, Out From Out Where plays like a break from his established form -- a move away from both the implied stylistic commentary of his album titles (Out From Out Where is a far cry from Bricolage, Permutation or Supermodified, after all) and the "jazzier" aspects of his sound. It's a wise move. Whereas Supermodified did perilously little to advance Tobin's sample-intensive compositional aesthetic, Out From Out Where is decisive step in a darker, weirder direction.

"Back From Space" is a promising start, teaming a sample of Debussy's "Clair de Lune" with swirling, spacy effects, chiming bells and tight, skittery, mahogany-solid drum and bass rhythms. The "Clair de Lune" sample creates and fosters a dreamlike mood, akin to the gently euphoric disorientation you experience just before having one drink too many, while the punishing throb of the densely-populated rhythm will wrap you up and squeeze you 'til your vision blurs. By contrast, the raucous first single "Verbal", which features the cut-up vocal talents of MC Decimal R, could easily dominate dancefloors with its chunky, resonant beats and catchy strummed-guitar sample. Tobin rarely moves this far into Fatboy Slim territory, but he's clearly up to the challenge.

In general, however, Out From Out Where isn't about the comfortable, sweaty familiarity of the dance floor. It's about Tobin's quest for new breaks and new samples, and his efforts to take us somewhere we've never been. There may be recognizable elements in his pieces -- the "Clair de Lune" sample, a naggingly familiar percussion sample in "Chronic Tronic", etc. -- but they've generally been twisted into new and unrecognizable forms, and invariably chart a course for darker territory. Tobin thrives on darkness, from noir jazz to the lingering menace of an unexplored Brazilian jungle, and even his most upbeat constructions flaunt their seedy underpinnings with unrestrained delight. "Rosies"' Art of Noise-style orchestrations, for example, might describe a clamorous nightmare ballet for knife-wielding robots, while "Triple Science" releases a vicious army of multi-legged mutations -- squiggly, scuttling keyboard doodles that move faster than thought.

Tobin's music always creates a sense of spectacular scale, and Out From Out Where offers some of his "biggest" pieces yet. Remember the scene, repeated in numerous sci-fi films, where the characters stumble across something massive and unexpected -- a huge alien starship, say, or an ancient underground computer complex whose databanks stretch for miles underground? That's the mood created by tunes like "El Wraith"; orchestral samples and heavy, echoing beats suggest vast, cavernous structures, the full extent of their depths obscured by murky shadows. It's music that makes you feel small, helpless and lost, while at the same time stimulating your desire to explore.

Attentive listening reveals clever use of contrast; in "Proper Hoodidge", for instance, Tobin tops the resonant quasi-didgeridoo throb of his central rhythm, and its accompanying bell-toll samples, with a drum 'n' bass beat pattern so thin and skittish that it seems one-dimensional. And if it's big beats you're after, suffice it to say that Out From Out Where's eleven tracks are so bass-intensive, the constant wind from my subwoofer so chilled my bare feet that I was forced to wear slippers while listening.

The pleasure of Out From Out Where, beyond its visceral creepiness, comes from discovering the extent of Tobin's craft. It's extremely difficult to create music this "full" without dropping too many ideas and sounds into the mix, but Tobin has mastered the art; for listeners, it's not merely a question of peeling back layers to find the hidden detail beneath, but of discovering still more detail beneath that first round of filigree. These sample-driven compositions float as beautifully as they do because Tobin has plugged every crack.

It's possible that you'll be deterred by Out From Out Where's departure from Tobin's Brazilian jazz roots, but what the disc lacks in familiarity it more than makes up for in spectacle. Besides, you didn't really want Permutation Part III, did you?



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