AMON TOBIN: FOLEY ROOM (2007)
1) Bloodstone; 2) Esther's; 3) Keep Your Distance; 4) The Killer's Vanilla; 5) Kitchen Sink; 6) Horsefish; 7) Foley Room; 8) Big Furry Head; 9) Ever Falling; 10) Always; 11) Straight Psyche; 12) At The End Of The Day.
And now for something not completely, but significantly different. Dispensing with the practice of sampling old vinyl (and not a moment too soon), Tobin shifts his attention to «field recordings». While Foley Room is by no means revolutionary in that regard — electronic artists had been venturing into the streets to capture live sounds of lively life for quite a long time — it may be the first, or among the first, albums to make a religion out of the principle. Just about every track includes «real-life» sound samples, used either for the rhythmic basis itself or as special effects-«flourishes» (sometimes as both).
Includes, yes, but is not confined to them. I have seen some complaints as to how, with Foley Room, Tobin crossed over into the world of the avantagarde and all but betrayed his original purpose of existence. This is not really just. Even at this stage of his career, Tobin is not strictly an «avantgarde» music maker, because Foley Room does not exactly rebel against the commonly observed principles of melody and harmony; at the very least, not against those principles that the guy used to follow on his earlier records.
After all, in a symbolic gesture, the very first track here does not sample motorbikes or kitchen sinks: it samples the Kronos Quartet, whom Tobin actually recorded live in his «foley room». I understand that «commonly observed principles of melody and harmony» are expected to go to hell when we deal with someone as reckless as the Kronos Quartet, but, in actuality, 'Bloodstone' is a fairly normal composition: a little ominous, a little terrifying, with all of its Schnittke influences firmly in place, but completely accessible.
The same goes for most of the other tracks. Naturally, there are no «memorable melodies»: the effect is purely atmospheric. And that effect, more often than not, is rather dry. The patterns that Tobin constructs in between his field recordings and the overlays of percussion and synthesizers have more to do with complex mathematics than intuitive spirit work. But we would be fooling ourselves if we started to argue about how A.T. used to be such an overwhelming spiritual messiah of the electronic world in the past, and how he has so unpleasantly shifted to soulless experimental textures — like, «jungle-jazz» is so cathartic, and «jungle-kitchen sink» is so technical. It really does not work that way.
Because the overall effect of Foley Room is not that far removed from the effect of Tobin's previous efforts. This is still the same old dark, otherworldly music, coming from some post-apocalyptic world in which green grass has been completely replaced by robo-factories and wannabe Darth Vaders stand in lines for the soup kitchen. This world has its brighter spots (e. g. on 'Horsefish', constructed along a pretty harp melody played by Sarah Page; 'Always', the «poppiest» track on here, including several disjointed guitar parts drawn from folk-rock, post-punk, and what-not, along with psychedelic female vocals), but, as it always goes, they are in a minority, merely offering brief respite from the harshness of this brand of virtual life.
It is just that this harshness, when all the field recordings are thrown in, becomes overtly «experimental». 'Big Furry Head', for instance, sounds very similar to some of his earlier «sickening shuffles», but, instead of going «wow, this is really heavy, makes my stomach churn», the listener is supposed to go «wow, he stuck the sounds of a roaring tiger on here, how cool is that?» (and most of the critics did go that way). Not that it really means anything, or that anybody could actually explain what is so particularly exciting about a sampled tiger roar. But it's an experiment. It could work — and then again, it could not work. You are supposed to find that out for yourself.
I respect experiment, especially when the experiment in question involves performing lots of hard work (and on Foley Room, with its miriads of samples interconnected in miriads of ways, Tobin seems to have done more hard work than ever before), and, on a sheerly intellectual level, the album is a mega-achievement, worth all the thumbs up that it can get. Unfortunately, on an emotional level, it, at best, gives that «same old same old» feeling, and, at worst, whispers that the feeling used to be stronger and sharper in the past.
Thus, technically, the experiment succeeds; but it looks like we are still a long way from reaching that stage when «sounds of the street» will become so naturally integrated in music-making that we'd start thinking of all the earlier music as hopelessly outdated. And I am all for replacing guitars, violins, and pianos with kitchen sinks and tiger roars — provided they can assume all of the functions of guitars, violins, and pianos, without losing their own. Until then, albums like Foley Room will always be «interesting», never «cathartic».
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