Out from Out Where (2002) was the apotheosis of Amon Tobin’s dark conjuring: The melodies and ethereal effects were merely the foot soldiers for his percussive war machine. He left loops behind long ago, layering sounds into claustrophobic landscapes, and although his 2005 soundtrack for the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory video game continued the frantic engagement, Tobin needed a new direction. He changes techniques with The Foley Room, keeping the same sensibilities but sampling found sounds, from motorbikes to metal scrapings, from snarling lions to scuttling insects.
The result isn’t avant-garde, industrial, or minimal. Tobin’s sense of breakbeat science remains intact; he’s simply broadened his palette of source material. Still, a shift is clear from the start: The strings of the Kronos Quartet lead the album, the drums finally taking their cue at the two-minute mark. The Foley Room still has its beautiful yet bruising moments, but the choral touches that before might have been used to haunting effect are decidedly lighter in tone. It’s not exactly the breezy Brazilian jazz that helped form his early work, but the change in sampling technique seems to have lifted some of the shadows.
So, how compelling is the music? The deft touches and complex rhythms that separate Tobin from other beat mongers remain, but the occasional low-end droning you might remember from the excellent Supermodified (2000) also muddles up the flow on some tracks, like the appropriately gurgling “Kitchen Sink.” At best, Tobin’s tracks are amazing not only in their sheer sonic force, but also in providing dynamics that go at wonderfully divergent directions. Out from Out Where was often epic in scope — the tracks could be five minutes in and suddenly reveal a new movement. Most of the tracks on The Foley Room exhibit one dominant motif, lacking those shifts that would make them stand out. The album closes with “At the End of the Day,” a lean three minutes of beautiful strings and lumbering drums, ending when other Tobin tracks would just be getting started. The album has plenty of stirring moments, but it falls short of being truly engulfing with its sound.