Amon Tobin: Isam (Ninja Tune)
I had lost track of Amon Tobin over the last several years, with my last exposure to his music being the superbly crafted Out From Out Where album. Isam is very much a fresh take on his production skills put through the filter of 2011 trends with a very discerning ear. There are plenty of allusions to what’s transpired in the last several years in dubstep and all of its various offshoots and permutations, but Isam never panders to genre so directly. Instead, Tobin picks and chooses carefully his reference points, an occasional wobble here or a raucous clattering of scattered percussion sounds there, getting across the intrigue and snarl of dubstep without resorting to imitation. The most startling aspect of Isam is how perfect it sounds. In a time when tape-hiss lo-fi acts are a dime a dozen and you’d be hard pressed to find an electro-house record that doesn’t have compression turned up to distracting highs, it’s refreshing to hear Tobin not only follow his impulses into unusual places, but also to hear him do so in glorious clarity. Every sound is balanced, carefully positioned and crystal-clear… it’s an audiophile’s dream come true. That said, this isn’t an album of hooks — it’s a dense sprawl closer to Autechre’s EP7 than most of the Ninja Tune camp. Occasionally a tune peaks out from the horizon, such as the strange “Kitty Cat” track in the latter half of the album, or the delicately plucked arrangement of “Lost & Found." What Tobin lacks here in catchiness he more than makes up for in execution, with many of these tracks plowing into one another with odd sounds, samples, synth treatments, effects and more. It’s an awesomely uncompromising collection of tracks showcasing the master at work.