The most accessible—and best—Amon Tobin album in recent memory.
Tobin's career has been marked by a continued forward propulsion, moving from the sample-based jazzy drum & bass sound he explored in the late '90s through to the sonic pyrotechnics of more recent years. But even for an artist so intent on invention, Fear In A Handful Of Dust might be his biggest stylistic leap so far. In order to combat his perceived obsession with details, Tobin has completely ditched drums and percussion. Having spent the past 23 years making music that so integrally featured these things, this might be like a filmmaker deciding to work in black and white, or an artist switching from charcoal to watercolour. Later in that video, Tobin admitted that in the past he'd been guilty of trying to squeeze too much into albums or even single tracks. Stripping things back was a way of focussing him. All told, this is probably his best creative decision since he started experimenting with cubes.
It's worth emphasising something here: Fear In A Handful Of Dust is a very approachable Amon Tobin record. It is highly unconventional, full of alien timbres and strange logic. But, as was the case with much of his music in the past couple decades, you don't need to be in a specific kind of mood to enjoy it. To call it ambient would be misleading, but the album does allow you to slip immediately into a similar embrace. Perhaps Tobin's biggest accomplishment is that he mostly achieves this through tone and texture alone.
"Velvet Owl," an album high point, is one of only a couple tracks that might become lodged in your brain. It follows the life cycle of a central melody, which is born, dies, and is resurrected. There's also a phrase to hold onto with "Fooling Alright," a swollen combination of strings and choral vocals with a psychedelic streak, while "Pale Forms Run By" features a cute 8-bit synth line.
But otherwise Tobin leans solely on processing, layering and acoustic modelling. This approach allows "Vipers Follow You" to sound like it's lead by a warped electronic sitar. It means the complex synths of "Freeformed" and "Three Different Hat Sizes" would make an ideal soundtrack to a biology documentary from the far future. And it leads Tobin to thrillingly blend real with surreal on "Milk Millionaire," where a piano and an Autechre-like synth part dance together. The approach also appears to have been profoundly liberating for Tobin, who's produced his best album in recent memory.