amon tobin
Photo: Courtesy of Nomark Records via Bandcamp

Amon Tobin Conjures Up Unsettling Soundscapes on ‘How Do You Live’

Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin offers up a collection of songs that’s eclectic even by his own genre-hopping standards on How Do You Live.

How Do You Live
Amon Tobin
Nomark Records
24 September 2021

Amon Tobin is the kind of electronic artist that everyone who dislikes electronic music should be introduced to. He transcends the genre. His music isn’t paint-by-numbers instrumental music; instead, it challenges the skeptical listener to accept the genre by approaching it in unique ways. His music has an inherent heaviness, a musical weight, that demands attention – but it’s rarely off-putting. If anything, his novel ways with sound design bring with it an odd, inherent type of catchiness.

How Do You Live comes a full 25 years after Adventures in Foam, Tobin’s debut release (under the moniker Cujo). Ever since he launched his label, Nomark Records, in 2019 with the stunning Fear in a Handful of Dust, he’s branched off into his many alter egos, releasing albums under the aliases Only Child Tyrant, Two Fingers, Figueroa, and Stone Giants. On this latest album, he’s back under his given name and offering up a collection of songs that’s eclectic even by his own genre-hopping standards.

The title track begins the album in fairly typical fashion, with ominous, zig-zagging synth lines moving into disembodied choral bits and eventually some oddly funky beats. But with “Rise to Ashes”, things start to fall apart beautifully, as fractured synths, chunky basslines, and psych-rock organ form a sort of prog/techno hybrid, once again underscoring the fact that Tobin doesn’t like doing anything conventionally.

With “Sweet Inertia”, Tobin revisits his Figueroa persona with actual lyrics and vocals, suggesting something slightly more conventional if the delivery wasn’t so sludgy and hallucinatory. That psychedelic approach is pushed forward even further with the distinct presence of chest-rattling low end, as songs like “Phaedra”, “In the Valley Stood the Sun”, and “Now Future” are marked by distinct, often overpowering bass lines. But they always seem to serve the weirdness of the compositions and are never executed as metronomic dance beats.

One of the strongest tracks on How Do You Live is the one that seems the furthest removed from the rest of the album. “All Things Burn” closes the record on a note that’s both cinematic and apocalyptic. Sweeping, sustained notes are combined with the groaning of musical machinery, helicopters, and daunting choral parts reminiscent of the late composer Gyorgy Ligeti. It’s a somewhat doom-laden way to conclude an album, but it’s quite a striking reminder of how all-encompassing Amon Tobin’s talents genuinely are and how lucky we are to have him around.

RATING 7 / 10