Album review: Fear in a Handful of Dust – Amon Tobin

Eight long years since he released his last masterpiece in sound design ISAM, Amon Tobin has presented us with another stunning arrangement of sonic delights.

Amon Tobin has come a long way since his musical inception during the 90’s. His career has been heavily focused on the likes of drum and bass, trip hop, breakbeat jazz and has always pushed the boundaries of the chosen sound.

The release of his album ISAM in 2011 introduced a new level of experimentation from the Brazilian producer. Trading in his staple of intense bursts of percussion and flawlessly timed sampling for something completely his own. Using samples he has created himself and digitally altering them to “explore sound, exploring what’s possible with sound”.

If you are wanting to listen to the artist’s more “musical” work then I recommend checking out the following: Nightlife from the album Permutation, Bloodstone from Foley Room, and Searchers from Out From Out Where. My personal favourite of his is the brooding beat Easy Muffin from his first album Bricolage. Unfortunately it will prove quite tough finding the track via digital means as 20 years after its release we saw it removed due to a sample that didn’t get cleared. Tragic. Thank the lord for vinyl.

Fear In a Handful of Dust is a dark and unique exploration of sound. It evokes feelings of a distorted lonely world. With the opening track, On a Hilltop Sat the Moon, we hear a swimming cluster of bewitching notes swirling around in the open space. Despite the unsettling nature of sounds that are conjured up to greet said notes, the feeling of enchantment is still prominent. This was a great introduction to the album.

Freeformed is, as its name would suggest, a very unstructured and detailed design. Mechanical robotic sounds break apart the intense foreboding and cinematic tones. Plucky metallic sounds give the song texture and life.

Pale Forms Run By has a similar light and mystical feel to the opening track. We hear a subtle sound of distortion grow louder in the right channel and move between the stereo channels, showing Tobin’s use of space. The unsettling ambience present with the opening track swirls around us here, however here it gives the song a more cosmic feel. As if we were looking to the night sky with On a Hilltop Sat the Moon, and now we are floating in it.

Fooling Alright is a very introspective piece. In Tobin’s words “The song addresses our tendency to present a view of ourselves that is happier and more confident than we really are.” The view is reflected in the music video, an experiment by Christian Moeller in which subjects were told to try and hold a sincere smile for an extended period of time. This topic fits well with the lonely contemplative feeling that is apparent in most of the tracks on this album. This track features some of Tobin’s own vocals, in the same style that we heard on ISAM’s Wooden Toy, and Kitty Cat. Where Tobin’s vocals have been “gender-modified”.

Tobin’s experimental sound design would be well utilised fitting to a movie or video game. The world that Tobin’s music creates is very visceral, guided by the realistic detailed sounds that he has formed. Truly a master of experimenting with sound.

This album is mainly for the listeners intent with being graced by precise and unique sounds, rather than your rhythm and flow. That being said, I will find myself going back to a few tracks on this album to enjoy in such a way; but for the majority of this album, it’s headphones on, eyes closed, ears open.





Author: Jack, Bristol store