After reading a slew of reviews (and finding myself inadvertently in the New York Times), I caught some crap from both friends and readers alike about my enjoyment for Amon Tobin's last "album" Chaos Theory: The Soundtrack To Splinter Cell. Yes, it was a soundtrack to a stinking video game, and yes it probably wasn't his best work, but it was an album that I enjoyed and still go back to on a consistent basis, which is a bit more than I can say for his somewhat haphazard Out From Out Where release that followed after a slew of gangbusters releases.
When word came out that Amon Tobin was basically re-inventing himself on his newest album, I have to admit that I was a bit excited. As both a producer and musician, his work has always been at the upper echelon, and while he was hardly sinking back into the ranks of has-beens, his newer work seemed to be losing some of the groundbreaking qualities that his earlier albums had. Breaking away from his standard routing, The Foley Room finds Tobin sampling every single sound anew, taking non-traditional sources and using them in interesting ways, while still progressing with a somewhat familiar musical feel.
"Bloodstone" opens the release and swells of strings weave eerily around crunching breakbeats and sparse piano melodies that fracture apart and pull back together during the course of the track. It's cinematic as heck, but introduces an issue that crops up repeatedly throughout the album as a whole. "Esther's" follows, and keeps some similar sounds (tinkling piano melodies and soft washes) before pumping up the intensity with hammering beats and samples of motorcycles revving their engines. Sonically, the track is interesting, just as pieces like "Kitchen Sink" and "Foley Room" are, but they just don't carry the weight that some of Tobin's other material does.
The main reason for this is that they're simply not very melodic. Sure, his releases aren't exactly known for their delicate and/or sensitive melodic arrangements, but The Foley Room falls back to rhythm much more often than not, and unfortunately it's the sort of thing that's he's already done before (albeit with different sounds). "Straight Psyche" is a perfect example, with milder beats that mix with some minimal melodies, but the sparse track feels much more like a score to a movie than his more dense past work, and at almost seven minutes the song doesn't hold interest like it should.
The album is at its best on standouts like "The Killer's Vanilla" and "Big Furry Head." Both songs rely on pummeling, sloggy beats, but pull in some thoughtful melodic sounds that help balance out the crunchier programming. The former swirls with dirty organ heaves, string swells, and bursts of hot electronics while the latter dangles some delicate harp notes and growls of tigers in alongside the thumping beats. In concept (and on the accompanying DVD), The Foley Room is a heck of an idea and meticulous in production and sound. Musically, though, the end result isn't the best work from Tobin. There are some standout tracks no doubt, but the twelve track, fifty minute release if often more interesting in concept than conception.