AMON TOBIN has been in there for quite a while now, toying with our heads with very fine, playful, exploratory and sometimes just wonderfully weird sonic artistry.
Rio-born, he arrived with Ninebar Records as Cujo, fashioning these trademark deep bass surges out on the edges of drum ‘n’ bass, like spitting thunderheads.
He came out of the shadows of the Cujo nom-de-musique on the excellent Ninja Tune in its pomp; at which time, if you believed the fantastically fantastical press releases that Ninja would issue back then, he was living under a palm tree near Brighton or somesuch; there he was wont to bring us such deep work as the jaw-dropping Supermodified, in which deep sonics surged and spat electricity like some scorched earth dystopia. It was beautiful and it gave you a shudder.
He moved past further landmark releases such as the soundtrack for Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the deep sampledelia art of ISAM, and has been releasing works of ever more diverse tronica experimentation on his own Nomark imprint for a couple of years now. Have a listen to the off-world solar glow of last year’s beautiful, otherly Long Stories, for example.
And today, July 31st, in a swerve in a career full of heart-following, eclectic sonic instinct and turns, he brings us a new project, Figueroa, as which he is releasing a set of leftfield Latin folktronica entitled The World As We Know It.
It’s a set long in the gestation: a back-burner project, a decade or more in the simmer, full of a zone where acoustic instrumentation plays off deeper, silicon-generated psychedelic haze.
Take, for instance, the opener, “Weather Girl”, there’s an arpeggiating little acoustic, bass strings ringing clear; it breaks out into a Latinate riff, is bathed in the rays of a carouseling digital shimmer, Amon whisper quiet: “These are the times of your every day”.
…. except there are no guitars. What, now?
From way back in his Ninja days an absolute adept of sound-sculpting, Amon has carved intricate six-string riffs and flourishes out of pure electronica, is what. Whoah there. A melodic core of absolute mimesis.
There has been, of course, marriage and interfacing of the acoustic instrument with the more nuanced end of electronica before. Let’s cite Four Tet; and in a more Latin flavour, the beauty of the Prefuse 73 side-project Savath & Savalas, whose Apropa’t album for Warp is a forgotten gem.
But I’m racking my brains here, thinking of an album that brings such acoustic warmth to a set of songs free of – well, the acoustic instrument.
Sssh, let’s not ask to see the man behind the curtain. Let us instead take the benison which he offers, marvel not at his higher powers.
“Put Me Under” has this flow, an almost Morricone refrain. It’s music for a big country, which dovetails rather with the album’s birth in a shack in the woods of northern California ten years back.
“If You Knew My Name” is built in the bright sonics of Fender vibrato and percussive organ. It wouldn’t sound out of place on something by The Zombies; which is weird if you consider the masterful manipulation it takes to curve back into thepast-thefuture and arrive here.
“Do Right” has the silica ghost of a guitar maestro, melodically underpinning a ghosted vocal hush: it sounds like it could’ve been, nay, ought to have, formed the centrepiece of a brilliant baroque-psych album in summer ’68. God yes, that is high praise.
“Better Run” has this wiry, slide-chord bend which is just too liquid, your ears can tell, just a touch into the impossible to be a real guitar. There’s a thrill and a slight discomfiture at encountering such a being. It’s a gorgeous song though, the essence of a twelve-string crisp in a riff. It sounds like Ariel Pink bound for a sunset beach, full of woozy grace.
Despite its cutting title, “Don’t Be A Bitch” is a sweet and skeletal caress, muted campfire ‘strum’ giving out to organ warmth (for the sake of our brains, let’s agree to believe in the existence of instruments just for now, just to aid the lexical flow).
It all wraps up with “Back To The Stars”, which yaws into your head on retro-synth textures and a harpsichordesque trill. Amon’s voice is filtered right out into psych … “All we did wrong / All we did right”… There’s this funny siren bend back in the mix which embeds as tones swoop and soar. It’s paisley as hell, yet microprocessor-clean and stylised.
An aside here, if we may, for producer Sylvia Massy, of Prince, Tool, and Red Hot Chili Peppers mixing-desk note: for twas her who, upon hearing a set of recordings of which Amon had perhaps lost purposeful sight of, was thrilled enough to nudge the project over the line at Capitol Records, Hollywood.
So what of The World As We Know It, then? I’m kinda confused, in a really good way. My poor brain. There’s tiny granular flecks of the artists mentioned above, and beings such as The Beta Band, MGMT, The Red Krayola in there somewhere, in terms of sound and echo and dark matter; but it’s like the trickery of high summer cloud in timelapse, your brain looking for the pareidolia, interpreting the familiar as shapes meld, form, reform.
It’s an album at once familiar and unfamiliar: it has the fashion and touch of acoustic-rooted psych, yet when you reach out to touch the wood and frets and keys and it all vanishes.
Is it a clever illusion? It’s certainly a record that invites a lot of cerebral engagement. It’s also warm and melodic and spacey and a little odd. It asks you to look closer. I think I might just have to lower myself in for another listen.
Figueroa’s The World As We Know It is released on Amon Tobin’s Nomark imprint in digital format today, July 31st. Order your copy at Nomark’s Bandcamp page, here.
Postscript: The World As We Know It will be receiving a vinyl release, be blessed, later in the year. There’s a vinyl campaign also running over at Bandcamp, which looks to now be closing on pressing viability; almost 300 people have pre-ordered. You can stake a claim to the wax of this off-kilter psych journey at https://figueroacali.bandcamp.com/campaign/the-world-as-we-know-it