Unfortunately, Foley Room doesn’t stack up next to Supermodified in any real way. Supermodified showed Tobin to be the Henry Mancini of electronic music; the album is an evocative mix of playful samples, danceable rhythms, and incredible beats. Where Supermodified is catchy and listenable, much of Foley Room is minimalist and difficult.
Tobin’s trademark is the sound of his drums. Permutation’s “Bridge,” Bricolage’s “Stoney Street” and “Yasawas,” Supermodified’s “Deo” and “Saboteur” are all great examples of Tobin’s attention to detail when it comes to the tone and size of his beats. Foley Room is no different. It begins with a visit from the Kronos Quartet. Tobin takes their neoclassical minimalism and turns it into a tense but slow, lilting waltz that explodes with drums that vanish as quickly as they arrived leaving wrecked violins droning in their wake. If the rest of the album had the feeling of “Bloodstone”, then Tobin would be looking at his finest work to date. Unfortunately, this blending of live instrumentation and electronic flourishes (arguably another Tobin specialty) isn’t the norm on Foley Room.
“Esther’s” and “Keep Your Distance” could be filler tracks on Bricolage or Out from Out Where. “Esther’s” is a stomper of a track with piano flitting about. “The Killer’s Vanilla,” a modern noir piece, is riddled with confusion; the drums take off but the rest of the music fades awkwardly away. Unless the extremely difficult, ill-fitting, borderline free electronic drum experiment of “Foley Room” is your thing, the album stagnates until reaching the staccato-ridden church/carnival/spaghetti western combination of “Ever Falling.” It’s a good, fun track with a little touch of whimsy. (Tobin’s apparent burgeoning love for Morricone’s style makes a final appearance in the Joe Kraemer-ish closer “At the End of the Day”). “Ever Falling” is followed by the foot-tapping, head-bobbing “Always” which features stops, starts, breaks, and some serious sonic depth. But just as Tobin begins to redeem himself with these solid tracks, he disappoints with the penultimate song - Straight Psyche” proves itself a massively boring letdown.
Amon Tobin followed a Matthew Hebert-like approach to Foley Room. Rather than create his album from various vinyl samples, Tobin opted to record the way foley artists do – with the creation of effects to fit the situation. This meant that Tobin ventured outside his studio to make field recordings across North America. While Tobin’s process of manipulating found sounds past the point of recognition may be mostly an interesting academic exercise (or at least a tribute to musique concrète), it fails to consistently transfer to an interesting listening experience worthy of repetition. Tobin would have been better off releasing four or five of these tracks as an EP. Doing so would have resulted in possibly his best single work to date. Barring that, re-ordering the songs into some sort of cohesive set would have helped, too. Slogging through significant amounts of slow, experimental filler is difficult, and Foley Room’s ratio of filler to quality is depressingly high.
However, this album is by no means bad. Stacked against almost any other contemporary electronic artist, Foley Room wins. Tobin simply is more creative and more proficient at articulating his artistic vision. Stacked against Tobin’s back catalogue, his increased production values win, but the quality of songs does not.