Fear in a Handful of Dust

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In his first album for 8 years, acclaimed electronic composer Amon Tobin turns in an album by turns both ambient and abstract, and deftly blends the two into something more.

Titled after a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, just like its inspiration, the album is sometimes difficult to categorize. Rounding off some of the more abrasive corners of his previous work to deliver a more mellow, almost ambient work. But, it being Amon Tobin, he can’t resist adding in some more abstract elements to jolt the listener out of their contemplative reverie.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to call this type of music, and my placeholder genre for now is avant-ambient. It expands on traditional ambient music into a mixture of introspective soundscapes interspersed with asymmetrical rhythms, atonal notes and syncopated percussion.

Album opener “On a Hilltop Sat the Moon” lulls you into a false sense of security with its low-key ambience before “Vipers Follow You” launches into more experimental territory with disjointed rhythms, eastern influenced string percussion and distorted soundscapes. Meanwhile “Pale Forms Run By” begins with an elegantly simple guitar pattern before building into a richly interwoven tapestry of electronic textures.

For me, the heart of the album is “Velvet Owl”. Its the longest track on the album, coming in at nearly 8 minutes and Tobin uses this length to draw out a slowly evolving work of rich tones, warm echoey pads, and piercing synth jabs that penetrate to the core of inner space.

“Milk Millionaire” is based around an introspective piano melody, interrupted and interspersed with discordant percussion, letting the piano line drift off into syncopation. Occasional snatches of notes tease the return of the melody, but are never quite resolved.

Closing out the album is “Dark as Dogs”, a hypnotically moody piece of deep reverb, random tones, drone vocals, and what sounds like an old modem firing up.

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