AMON TOBIN: SUPERMODIFIED (2000)
1) Get Your Snack On; 2) Four Ton Mantis; 3) Slowly; 4) Marine Machines; 5) Golfer Vrs Boxer; 6) Deo; 7) Precursor (feat. Quadraceptor); 8) Saboteur; 9) Chocolate Lovely; 10) Rhino Jockey; 11) Keepin' It Steel (The Anvil Track); 12) Natureland.
This is the best Amon Tobin there is. To me, the pricky conservative, the best praise that can be given to an electronic album is that, for once, the album makes me forget about its electronic nature and just enjoy it as music — atmospheric, static, whatever. From the very start, it was cool to hear Tobin blend jazz with jungle, but that's what it was: cool, not stunning. Cool records come and go, and these days, can be heaped on the racks a dime a dozen (actually, skip the dime), but a stun is a stun — it is bound to leave an impression.
So what do we have up here? Some of the critics have called Supermodified Tobin's most accessible album, which, in these days, often translates to «the crappy one» (a.k.a. «the one with guest contributions from Lenny Kravitz and Mary J. Blige»), but, fortunately, this does not apply here. It's accessible because it's (a) heavier than before, (b) catchier than before, (c) more diverse than before, (d) whatever. Oh, wait. It's fun.
Where do we begin? The main message has not changed much. We are still living in our own private lounge with velvet curtains and hi-tech drape runners, a sort of David Lynch-ian paradise if I might say so. But it is now getting rougher and darker (apparently, BOB is in the building?), as 'Get Your Snack On' announces the new record on a gruffer note than ever before. Big crashing drums, a nagging minimalistic riff that almost sounds sampled from some old John Lee Hooker tune, lush gospel organ and vocals brewing a 'Gimmie Shelter'-type apocalypse in the background, paranoid funk guitars scratching their way in and out, it's one heck of a tune.
From there on, just about every tune is hook-based. 'Four Ton Mantis' might sound appropriate for a real four ton mantis: even though the basic melody stomps along at a generic blues-rock pace, the drums and bass soon start pummeling the pavement, and the typewriter-mannered keyboards clatter along like some parasitic retinue to the beast. It doesn't get too way out of itself, but if played at top volume, it's quite an impressive «anti-utopian» chunk of atmosphere.
After the first two heavy hammers, the atmosphere becomes subtler – kick-ass panoramas begin to alternate with sexier / sleazier stuff, with an occasional touch of romance ('Slowly' is Tobin's most perfect attempt at conjuring a femme fatale vision) or, vice versa, of industrial doom ('Marine Machines', which manages to combine the rhythmic robotic clanging of a power plant with vague bits of Eastern melodicity — as in, Genie, I want to run a Panzer tank factory). Skipping far ahead, there's a really rough space journey on 'Rhino Jockey', which will make you earn far more bumps and blisters than any Aphex Twin trip; and a smooth, well-planned slide-off, first with the upbeat, catchy, almost singalong-able Latin beat of 'Keepin' It Steel', and then the dim cabaret lights of 'Natureland' — that last ballad which you can allow yourself because all the rough ones are already under the tables, or kicked out.
Truly, Supermodified is one album that deserves its title — this is where it all comes together and you really see that all that blending on the previous records wasn't done for nothing. Here, it's not simply something like «okay, let's see what happens when we put some Miles Davis over some of those drum'n'bass tracks» (although even that, per se, could be amusing). They sometimes use the word decadent to describe this sound, but I'm not sure it fits: real decadence has to be pessimistic, get some end-of-the-world Bryan-Ferry-sobbing thing going for it, whereas Supermodified is quite content to be threatening, ominous, and seductive without having to feel sorry for itself. But, on the other hand, there is a fair amount of the Devil's work going on here, that's for certain. And since we're all closet Satanists here way back from the days of Robert Johnson, how could this not deserve a thumbs up?
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