Back in the nineties, that would have been a scandal. These days, not really. Is anyone in the world still making music with nothing but two turntables, an MPC, a collection of obscure soul records, and a fetish for vinyl crackle? RJD2, DJ Shadow himself, and practically everyone on Ninja Tune have moved on to making music like 'real' band, often with disastrous results. But the reason Foley Room succeeds is that, rather than, say, switching to mincing indie pop like RJD2, Amon Tobin has thankfully done his best to disguise the change in methods. This album has all the same epic ingredients as 2002's Out From Out Where: cascading cymbals, post-jungle bass, tropical squelches, and spaghetti-Western guitar and strings. Without reading the press release, you'd probably never realise that Tobin has been recording everything from chickpeas to tigers to the Kronos Quartet; and unlike Matthew Herbert or Hecate or Matmos, he neither draws attention to his trickery nor gives it any political pretext (which is probably a good thing, since Matmos already decisively triumphed in the 'clever-dick samples' contest by building an entire LP from the sound of a rat running around in a cage). For some, Tobin's familiar palette will read like a fatal limitation, but it also means that he still doesn't sound like anyone else.
Questions of technique aside, Foley Room is some of Tobin's strongest work. Without either pop touches or dancefloor potential, stuff like this lives or dies on building a mood: and while, for most Ninja Tune artists, that mood is 'sucking beatifically on a hookah', for Tobin it's more 'midnight car chase through post-war Vienna', which he does very well indeed. On The Killer's Vanilla, an organ out of Rick Ross' Hustlin' ducks to avoid a strafe of snare-drums, then calls in the horns for back-up. On Keep Your Distance, paranoid surf guitar and cosmic synth sweeps mingle unexpectedly into a moment of remarkable grandeur. Esthers, meanwhile, goes back to the drum'n'bass rhythms that preoccupied Tobin's classic debut Bricolage. Throughout, you're free to put your ear to the speaker and listen for ants chomping grass, or you're free just to close your eyes and pretend you're in a film. Stay alert, though: if you buy Foley Room, you won't have to be in Amon Tobin's basement for him to sneak up and knock you out.8/10
Out now on Ninja Tune.