Tag Archives: amon tobin

Watch and chain (and sample and hold)

I read somewhere that Steven Ellison a.k.a. Flying Lotus really looked up to Amon Tobin when he was starting. Though Tobin’s taken a turn for the ambient on his two most recent releases, it’s not hard to see the influence he would have had, at his creative zenith, on Ellison. On landmark Ninja Tune releases like Bricolage and Supermodified, Tobin mined jazz records for inspiration, bringing old sounds into his exotic, futuristic take on jungle. Anything and everything could be sampled, and the songs were as witty as they were outlandish.

The same playfulness and experimentation inhabits much of Ellison’s output as Flying Lotus, as does the reverence for jazz. On “Camel“, taken from the second Flying Lotus LP, Los Angeles, Ellison scratches his distance-mentor’s back, using the same drum sample from Aynsley Dunbar’s “Watch ‘n’ Chain” as Tobin put to such good use on “Saboteur“. I championed Supermodified through my teenage years in the face of indifference; upon hearing Los Angeles for the first time I knew I had been right to stick by it. I saw the connection between the two artists, and recognised that Flying Lotus could be destined for even greater things.

Fun fact: Dunbar, one of the great jazz drummers, auditioned to be in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. As one of two final aspirants, he lost out to Mitch Mitchell only on a coin-toss by Hendrix himself. If his achingly addictive sticksmanship on “Watch ‘n’ Chain” is anything to go by, his talents ought to live on in far more samples than just this one, which forms the backbone of two brilliant compositions.

Advertisements

Amon Tobin — ISAM [Full Album Stream]

I’ll write up a review of this, soonish, since no one else in the mainstream press seems to be bothered about Mr. Tobin anymore.

White goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea

In Dan Weiss’s review of Interpol frontman Paul Bank’s forthcoming solo single, “The Fun That We Have”, the writer suggests that while “All the guys fall for the languid Turn On The Bright Lights … the girls I know tend to prefer the blockier Antics.” I may be the exception to the rule, in that I feel there’s a compelling case for suggesting that Antics is the superior album; indeed, that it may be one of those albums that I irrationally associate with ‘perfection’. Other such albums have included, over the years, Tortoise’s TNT, Amon Tobin’s Supermodified, and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. To this list, I believe we can add Antics, because it succeeds in continuing the importance of mood and atmosphere that Interpol established on their debut, while attaching greater importance on the quality of the songwriting.

Turn On The Bright Lights is an alarmingly accomplished debut: from the very off, its echoey, jangling guitar signal a kind of reflective anxiety and unease that never lets up. Through the elegiac swooning of NYC and the slightly malevolent swagger of PDA, the intricate interplay of guitars provides the ideal counterpoint to the locked-in tautness of the rhythm section. The emotional centre of the album, Hands Away, with its beautiful swells of orchestral slush, is book-ended by two tightly-wound pop songs in Say Hello To Angels and Obstacle 2. The second half of the album finds the band a little in the wilderness, meandering through Stella… and Roland seemingly on autopilot, relying on atmospherics to succeed any boredom. Finally, in the closing brace of The New and Leif Erikson, the band secure their foothold once more with a pair of gorgeous, engaging epics that take unexpected turns and dives. The album is a delicious journey, and I’ve probably done little so far to dispel this suggestion. But, crucially, for me, it provides too few highlights. Taken as a whole, it’s an extremely successful portrait of a city, a culture, a social class. Taken apart, it only really contains one standout track – The New – and the overriding impression of a band reaching out far beyond their limits (which is undoubtedly a good thing) is more than anything else a product of the album’s interstitial outros. Collectively, it’s epic. Singularly, it’s just really good.

Antics, by contrast, announces itself in a considerably more upbeat fashion, with the organ-led swell of Next Exit, and proceeds, over the course of 42 minutes, to never put a foot wrong on the individual level of the song, and indeed the overall texture of the album. It’s both an album of singles, and a single body of an album. The structure and pacing of Turn On The Bright Lights was a loose-limbed thing; Antics follows a much more interesting pattern: the first side consists mainly of snappy, bright pop songs, broken only by the wandering beauty of Take You On A Cruise; the second side, beginning with Not Even Jail, is far more adventurous, with a series of far-reaching performances brought momentarily back to earth by the brief C’mere. As on its predecessor, Antics closes with a stunning couple, with the maximal arrangement of Length Of Love leading beautifully into A Time To Be So Small, which appears to depict a father-and-son argument taking place in a boat, from the point of view of a sea urchin, watching the dispute from the ocean beneath said boat. This is fascinating, far-out stuff, and it’s extraordinary how we never feel a sense of ridicule at being stretched so much by what superficially appears to be a four-piece straight-up post-punk revival.

The reason I think Antics is the better album, then, is because when it sticks to the pop formula, it gets better returns than before, and, when the band take off their dancing shoes and put on their thinking caps, the album’s exploratory epics put just as much experimentation and texture into each song as Turn On The Bright Lights achieved on the whole album. That’s not a criticism of Turn On The Bright Lights, more a satisfying reflection on just how accomplished Antics is. Of particular importance are Take You On A Cruise and Public Pervert. On the former, mournful, bleating pails of guitar and feedback lead masterfully into a an almost mantra-like passage of whispered chanting; on the latter, a simple arpeggiated bassline combines with lilting, tremolo guitar work to set up a raging beast of a song that captures perfectly the feeling of the lyrical refrain “So swoon baby, starry night…” It’s a rare moment of emotional unity on an album otherwise populated by unsettling and macabre imagery, as in the closer’s chorus of “cadaverous mobs”.

Antics is very much the kind of album that, when it recedes into silence at the end, one wants nothing more than to conjure it into being again. It manages to assert a continuous instrumental virtuosity that never ceases to surprise, which, combined with the best collection of lyrics Paul Banks has committed to tape, breaks surprising ground given the band’s sparse set-up. More so than its predecessor, it succeeds not only in the big picture, but also in the minutiæ, and for this, it remains one of the most pristinely unhindered albums I own. I wouldn’t change a single thing.

You’re bringing me down

I’m man enough to admit that the following albums leave me pretty much in tears by the time they finish:

  • Amon Tobin – Supermodified (occasionally)
  • Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  • Blur – 13
  • Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
  • Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
  • Jaga Jazzist – What We Must
  • Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
  • LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  • Low – Drums And Guns
  • M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Portishead – Third
  • Pulp – We Love Life
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • Radiohead – Kid A
  • The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
  • TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

What does this tell me? Well, other than that I’m possibly an emotional trainwreck, it also suggests that I’m a real sucker for killer album closers, notably those that are long, protracted, portentous and often outstay their welcome. Sometimes, these final songs are emotionally charged to such a degree that I feel utterly drained. At other times, it’s just the pent-up sadness that eventually emerges from an album full of grief, depression or sadness. When a songwriter lays his soul bare on record, it’s hard for me to not empathise.

This has made me sound like someone close to the brink, which I’m not, so I’ll stop now.

10.0 albums

Are there any albums that I would award a score of 10.0, Pitchfork style? Well, being a bit more generous in places than Pitchfork, yes. There is still a little bit of overlap between the two sets of albums (the Pitchfork one used to be a group page on Wikipedia, but I think it’s since disappeared), but there are also some fairly substantial differences. Without further ado:

Amon Tobin – Supermodified

Arcade Fire – Funeral

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

David Bowie – Low

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

Gorillaz – Demon Days

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Led Zeppelin – IV

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antarctica

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf

Radiohead – OK Computer

Radiohead – Kid A

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun

Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Steely Dan – Aja

Talking Heads – Remain In Light

Tortoise – TNT

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

The main thing with this list that it overlooks possible faults with individual songs on albums in the pursuit of perfection as a whole. A 10.0 album, in my book, should be cohesive and thematic, without necessarily needing to have every song nailed.