AMON TOBIN: PERMUTATION (1998)
1) Like Regular Chickens; 2) Bridge; 3) Reanimator; 4) Sordid; 5) Nightlife; 6) Escape; 7) Switch; 8) People Like Frank; 9) Sultan Drops; 10) Fast Eddie; 11) Toys; 12) Nova.
You really need a jazz expert to explain everything that gets permutated on Permutation. Me, I suck pretty bad even when playing the hated game of «guess that sample» for electronic tracks that feed off well-known pop hits; what could you expect from samples drawn from the vast backlog of jazz, particularly when the backlogging guy clearly has no problem about drawing upon any sorts of influences. There may be Coltrane, and there may be Miles Davis here, and there may be some Arstrong — hey, I would not be surprised to discover The Original Dixieland Jass Band hiding in Mr. Tobin's closet overnight.
My only consolation is that the absolute majority of people, including hardcore fans of the guy, cannot identify the exact sources either (at least, I have not been able to come across any such identifications), with the sole exception of 'People Like Frank', where some recognize the bass line as being taken out of the soundtrack to Blue Velvet — obviously, through the title association, or no one would ever have guessed. Yet, does it bother anybody? Hardly, since Tobin's talent is to get people to admit that this gluing together of jazz samples, bits of original melodies, and jungle beats is well worth emotionally taking on its own, not just being treated as an intellectual puzzle. You may know shit about Miles Davis — and still get happily lost in the record.
There are no major breakthroughs here: essentially, it is just an attempt to repeat the success of Bricolage. If one makes an effort to synthesize a «collective» feeling here, Permutation may come across as a generally heavier album, and, at the same time, generally even more «retro-ish» than its predecessor. The heaviness effect is achieved by traditional means — put some extra distortion on the bass, and make your drums occasionally bash, crash, and roll over John Bonham-style, rather than simply reproduce the thin, wimpy chucka-chucka patterns of «generic» drum'n'bass recordings. Hear 'Sordid' to know what I'm talking about — now here's a drum groove that even a hardened rocker would have no problem to headbang to.
On the other hand, 'Nightlife' starts out as an innocent lounge tune from, say, the 1930s, and ends up the same way, with a bold transition to modern style in the middle. And 'Switch' is just classic swingers' swing from top to bottom, if you don't mind the screeching electric drill that opens the tune and sometimes returns to haunt you several more times. And 'Nova' ends the record with a soft Brazilian farewell that could even break its way into luxury penthouses. And the hypnotic chimes on 'Like Regular Chickens'... well, that's actually fairly modern-sounding (I bet Patricia Barber would love that track).
Pleasant, intriguing, and clever as always, yet, perhaps, also a bit boring around the edges if you intend on paying lots of attention to the music, instead of using it as a soundtrack to the process of writing a fantasy novel or seducing a progressive-minded chick. (In the latter case, be sure to program out at least 'Reanimator' and 'Fast Eddie' — neither the music nor the titles might work to your mutual benefit). Thus, the thumbs up which a predictable brain reaction forces me to give out to the album is still somewhat perfunctory.
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