New York and London are filled well past the saturation point with aspiring DJ’s and beat-makers trying to pass off their standard R&B rehashes as "jazzy." But Brazilian-born, UK-based Amon Tobin is the exception. His first album appropriately opened with an orchestral cluster from Charlie Parker’s With Strings date and proceeded to make melody from unorganized chaos. Like his contemporaries Coldcut and DJ Shadow, he fashions original compositions out of unrecognizable samples.
And on his fourth Ninja Tune release, Out From Out Where, Tobin moves away from earlier jazz pretensions and speaks directly to the movers on the floor. Gone are the distorted horn lines and bass runs, the heightening mechanical breaks and the industrial synth. His mixing dexterity is very much on display, though most of the tracks are better suited for contemplative head nodding than hyperactive techno madness. Yet like Shadow, Tobin appeals more to the rock fans than to the club crowd. There is little breakdancing or booty pumping at his live dates, yet his beats loom large and his complex compositions are far from by-the-numbers electronica.
But Out From Out Where lacks the feeling of immediacy of 2000’s Supermodified. There is no obvious single and tracks blend into each other with little tension. Though it is not Tobin’s most inventive release, exciting spots are hidden within, from the scat-like vocal phrasings on "Verbal" to the understated guitar lines of "Mighty Micro People," with the bass drum always at the forefront.
Though his colorful collages have flirted with mainstream success, appearing on ads for BMW, Coca-Cola and Channel 13, Tobin’s four-minute slices of funk will never be as popular on the dance floor as the latest Kylie Minogue disco is, but he’s smart and his breakbeats stand unique. They move away from the incredibly predictable 4/4 rhythm of most semi-dance music and incorporate backbeat and tropical samba elements. Arabic sounds in the form of sitars and drum circles reminiscent of Talvin Singh and the Asian Underground movement also surface.
Variety is the key to Tobin’s success, and he plays off different formulas: slow roll, smooth smoky lounge, factory drum and bass crunch. But what truly distinguishes him from the rest of the electro pack is his ability to make completely processed sounds feel organic. The two-second guitar lick, the single piano chord and the endless snare drill take on new life when superimposed over one another. Over less than a decade, Amon Tobin has effectively reinvented the big break. Even in weaker moments, his post-modern science fiction stands heads above the rest.