AMON TOBIN (CUJO): ADVENTURES IN FOAM (1996)
1) Adventures In Foam Intro; 2) Cat People; 3) Northstar; 4) Fat Ass Joint; 5) Ol' Bunkhouse; 6) Paris / Streatham; 7) A Vida; 8) Traffic; 9) Reffs Edge (Interval); 10) The Sighting; 11) Break Charmer; 12) The Method; 13) On The Track; 14) Cruzer.
The full-length debut album of the artist currently known under the noble Númenorean name of Amon Tobin was his only one to be released under the routine Portuguese name of Cujo (meaning «whose?» — in my opinion, quite a fine path to travel: you hide behind a no-name when you are a nobody, and you change it to a mega-name once you are everything). Actually, «Númenorean» is a happy coincidence: the man's real name is Amon Adonai Santos de Araújo Tobin, he is of Brazilian descent, his childhood since 2 was spent moving from one cool West European city to another, and he makes drum 'n' bass records. A hell of a real cool cat for his time.
So, what's up with Adventures In Foam? First of all, everyone you meet will tell you it's one of those records for which the term «revolutionary» may almost be used without having to look back over your shoulder. I am not a big fan of free-form jazz, and an even lesser one of drum'n'bass, but even I have to admit that synthesizing the two was a terrific idea. Take a music form that has long since lost its actuality (let us admit it, by 1996 Miles Davis-style jazz was practically as much a thing «of the past» as academic classical music), take another, brand new, but comparatively poor — at the very least, because of its prescribed minimalism — musical form, and hoopla, here is extra development potential for both.
Second, it is delightful that this «marriage» gives you an opportunity to view the record in several entirely different lights. You can go like, «Hey, this guy loves electronic percussion craziness, but he clearly hates the boredom aspects of it, so he keeps looking for pepper and spice». Or you can go, «I know, he's a professional deconstructor, he makes fun of snub-nosed elitist jazz music by setting it to silly hipster club rhythms». Or it's along the lines of, «He's a professional educator! He wants to intellectualize the masses! Adventures In Foam today, Eric Dolphy tomorrow — he's like the Vanessa Mae of post-bop jazz without the Vanessa Mae trashiness». Just do not try to think of him from all these perspectives at the same time — if you do, he's just another dull post-modernist type trying to confuse your traditionalist senses just as the doctor ordered.
To be more precise, Adventures In Foam has its own diversity profile. Drum machines and synthesized bass lines are everywhere, with varying degrees of complexity, but the accompanying tracks range from pure ambient «whale-sigh»-type atmospherics ('The Light') to more clearly spelled out electronic loops ('The Sighting') to minimalist jazz-fusion ('Fat Ass Joint') to brass-led soft jazz ('Break Charmer') to proverbial dissonant freak-out piano rolls ('The Sequel') to moody vague-Eastern patterns ('Northstar'), and these are only my first impressions of less than half of the tracks — the absolute majority differ from each other in texture and mood.
My own current favourites are 'Cat People', with a killer bass groove draped in sexy loungishness, and the closing 'Cruzer', for which the sub-title "Music Inspired By Deep Purple's 'Space Truckin'" would work real great, except it would not be the truth (but who cares). This may change tomorrow or the day after, though, so it is nowhere near as important as the general fact that, behind all the revolutionizing, if there ever was any revolutionizing, lies an elegantly atmospheric record that transcends the technical trappings of all of its genres and can simply be enjoyed as cool music. Or, rather, kool muzak, but that works well, too. Thumbs up.
P.S. For the record, I must confess that my copy is the «unapproved» US release on Shadow Records from 1997 (hastily put out already after the man had gained international stardom as Amon Tobin), with differing artwork and, more importantly, an alternate track order with several of the compositions mistitled (e. g., 'The Sequel' is really 'Clockwork', etc.). In any case, that old edition is currently out of print, so you only need worry if you go hunting for the album in used bins — and these days, you probably won't.
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