AMON TOBIN: BRICOLAGE (1997)
1) Stoney Street; 2) Easy Muffin; 3) Yasawas; 4) Creatures; 5) Chomp Samba; 6) The New York Editor; 7) Defocus; 8) The Nasty; 9) Bitter & Twisted; 10) Wires & Snakes; 11) One Day In My Garden; 12) Dream Sequence; 13) One Small Step; 14) Mission.
Released under his own name this time, and on a proper independent electronic label (Ninja Tune) — with Adventures In Foam amassing positive reviews and cult followings, there were no more reasons to conceal a direct descent from Aragorn (sorry, couldn't resist).
If there have been any groundbreaking changes from Foam to Bricolage, I am hardly the right person to point them out, because, to my ears, the main point is still the same: merge together jazz and electronics, collect royalties on results. The difference is in quantity, not in quality: Bricolage straightens out the balance in favor of more jazz, less -tronics — especially on the early tracks, with jungle rhythms and synth backgrounds becoming more and more prominent as the record progresses. Basically, you begin with «electronic jazz» and end with «jazz-tinged drum 'n' bass».
As tightly crafted and inventive as it all sounds, the first few tracks do not involve me all that much. 'Stoney Street' has next to no «electronic flavor» whatsoever, merely adding some keyboard flourishes to its soft lounge jazz pitter-patter, and the next two tracks are minor atmospheric paintings, hardly worth a second visit.
It isn't until 'Creatures' that a sense of actual purpose, and some genuine interest, finally starts emerging. The rhythmless intro consists of multiple «chiming» overdubs, making you feel inside some sort of giant clock; and then, after a short while, the clock is set in rapid movement, with a fast bop rhythm section that completely blurs the distinction between jazz drumming and pre-programmed jungle beats, and occasional piano runs that pay tribute to the likes of Art Tatum. This sort of thing is more than just «atmosphere» — it's a bizarre, unique concoction that really brings together the best of both worlds, spinning a traditional hot groove out of new ingredients.
From there and onwards, bizarre concoctions spring on at least every second track. On 'Chomp Samba', Tobin programs a grim tribal dance-style beat: this is exactly the kind of music we'd end up with, had the white slave traders been placating African chiefs with samplers instead of guns and firewater. 'The Nasty' is spicy, sleazy acid jazz taken to the max, with each played or simulated instrument eating deep within your brain — don't forget to rinse the inside with an alkaline solution every five seconds. 'Bitter & Twisted' is based on a sample that first sounds like an annoying fly that got inside your ear, then like an Middle Eastern melody. 'One Day In My Garden' drives into ska and bossanova territory, only to fall out in total percussion chaos and then pick it up again and end the proceedings with the same soft guitar chuckle on which it had started. And so on.
Essentially, the album title is right. You buy and enjoy Bricolage not just because it fuses jazz and jungle, but because it is a «bricolage» — like Aphex Twin, this guy is searching for inspiration everywhere, and if it does not always work, he is not to blame, because that is what experimentation is all about. (One could object that, if it does not work, it should not be released — but on an experimental jazz-jungle record, who's to know what really works and what doesn't? I can hardly imagine even two people agreeing on all the highlights and lowlights of this record. If you ever see them, report them to the nearest genetics lab, they're treasurable research material). I could never love something like this, but I certainly respect it a lot. Normally, taking a jazz melody and putting an electronic spin on it would result in something cheap and repulsing; the fact that Tobin knows how to make it sound intelligent, even «intellectual», instead, is alone worth a solid place in the annals of electronic music. Thumbs up.
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