Amon Tobin’s work has always seemed to have two competing instincts; the instinct to chop, edit and reconstruct sound into moments that jar and shatter irretrievably like seconds from the clock, whilst simultaneously building the listener toward an expectant sense of reverie that the biggest IDM tune is going to fall any second, turning wherever the listener is into an instantly possessed and churning dance floor of bodies.
With Isam, Tobin’s desire to edit has completely decimated any rhythmic teasing of fluidity. Here he pairs his edits with the installation work of highly respected visual artist Tessa Farmer with a work that sees micro warriors riding butterflies, battling wasps and generally providing a wonderfully surreal plain. Unfortunately for Isam, Tobin really has pushed his work to a place that feels like a backing series of sweeps and swishes more suited to soundtrack a demonstration of the incredible new 3D rendering capabilities of technologies newest and brightest consumer product over an album that wants to connect with its listeners. Whilst Isam may be a fabulous accompaniment and give drama to the Farmer’s lovingly devised work, in isolation it surely has the capacity to trigger some kind of disorientating breakdown.
A justifiable position to take is that this dynamic use of sound is Tobin’s strength and, as with much of Tobin’s work, there’s a naturalism that forms the basis of the digital conversions and blasts. Mass & Spring does indeed sound as though springs are the rhythmic pronouncements here, and chimes softly support and filter through. Micro moments feel like they may settle into something emotionally tangible, only to bubble into chaos and noise. Whereas the tease of this process isn’t in itself infuriating, the over reliance and repetition of this process, which could just be stubborn refusal to provide even something that feels like is has developed of itself, makes teeth grind. As Calculate half trundles along in a series of loosely competing melody lines, it does so for a mere 90 seconds.
Tobin also throws vocals into the mix on occasion. Kitty Kat has a lady scratching out a melody The Residents may have written had they had the attention span of fish. As the album closes with Dropped From The Sky, a few 20-second streams of music thump out at points within a seven minute sleepless tussle, but it doesn’t feel like enough. For those unwilling to ride his digital wave of collapse and partial reconstruction, Farmer’s mythological re-enactments will seem essential.