The Albums of 2011 – #1 Amon Tobin – ISAM
As soon as I started to write these end of year blogs, I knew exactly what would sit proudly at the top. Amon Tobin’s ISAM album is his seventh for Ninjatune records in 15 years (not including Solid Steel Mixes) but this is his first that is completely and utterly peerless.
Tobin’s body of work has evolved over the years: his mid 90′s album as Cujo could be described as trip-hop; Bricolage and Permutation were beefed up forays into drum’n'bass and heavy hip hop, then Supermodified refined this sound more accessibly into a shape that can now be heard soundtracking most Top Gear montages. His next album began to incorporate visual elements and was also exemplary in the way the tunes segued together. Foley Room then saw Tobin eschew traditional samples, instead composing tunes entirely out of self-sourced field recordings. ISAM has amalgamated all of these developments, then inevitably pushed the artistry even further.
Sonically obtuse yet somehow accessible, ISAM can only really be explained in wildly hyperbolic metaphor. . . It is the sound of an army of skyscraper-sized Gundam mechanoids waging war inside a haunted Victorian dolls house; it is a Cybertronian lullaby performed in an insect’s dream; it’s the sound of a Galaxian spacecraft rotting away whilst inextricably being sucked into a supernova. That enough twaddle? Good.
Like I say – kind of hard to describe.. What I can say is that Tobin has delivered an hour of unbelievably detailed abstract music. It has no repetitive beats but will still make you want to dance; it has fat slabs of deep, angry bass that would have dubstep producers like Skrillex running for cover, dappled with playful nursery melodies and jingles that will lodge inside your head for days; it has plaintive sing-song vocals that can sound both innocent and ominous at once. No one track sounds remotely incongruous, in fact the album is far more effective when listened to as a continuous whole rather than cherry-picked individual tunes on your ipod. Whilst hard to explain what it may be, there is a distinct feeling of a narrative thread that pulls it all together. Put it on your headphones and you will struggle to find a more three dimensional soundscape to immerse yourself in, play it in the car and the bass will have your dentures rattling.
So far, I’ve only concentrated on what you might find on the CD, but it’s at this point I’ll advise you to click here and watch this illuminating video clip:
(It doesn’t want to embed it seems, so please remember to pop back here once you’re done!)
Now take a peek at this one too:
You back? Jolly Good . . As you can see, ISAM has evolved into a wildly ambitious (and successful) live show – I was lucky enough to see a performance this year and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it (or, well, what I Could see, beyond an ocean of tall people holding camera phones in the air). Such as the tracks are woven inextricably together, so the music is now entwined with the visuals on show. A fantastic achievement by all involved, and a level of technical proficiency that has yet to be matched by any other live audio/visual production.
The thing is, Tobin is not just without rival in his production skills, but he inspires a level of excellence in designers and creatives who have been exposed to his music. The top video above shows artist Tessa Farmer’s unsettling & imaginative sculptural work that she created to accompany the album, and I have a smattering of short video clips which you have to see: each of them both excellently & lovingly crafted, whilst also using Tobin’s music as a inspiration & starting block..
This is from Jim Jam Graphics and XYZee Design:
This is by Daniel Schwarz:
..and this final clip is from BLR FX using elements of Tobin’s remix of Noisia’s Machine Gun:
I think you get the general idea!
For about twenty years I have always held the Aphex Twin as the best electronic musician of my generation, but it has taken until ISAM for me to realise that his throne has been usurped: Amon Tobin is the reigning king of electronic production, pushing sonics in ways that the rest of us mere mortals cannot even begin to imagine or understand. Long may he continue to do so.
ISAM is available now from Ninjatune records. I can’t wait to get my hands on the DVD of the live show, surfacing some time in the New Year.
The full Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective of Movies, Music & Mixes can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE
Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2012!