Toby Tune – Layers Of Light – Album Review
Short and sweet y’all…Toby Tune gets how to do Electro music right & keep ya comin’ back for more.
“Abstractions” kicks things off, and if your ears are on straight, it should immediately get ya interested and engaged. Personally, after having a solid listen to this lineup of cuts on Layers Of Light, I felt like the dude completely nailed the opening of this album with the right track to pull us in so that we WANT to listen to the rest that follows. “Abstractions” is actually one of the album’s longer tracks, even though it still measures less than three-minutes in total…but you gotta admire how Toby has the knack for finding the threshold perfectly, right away – he’ll give ya what songs NEED without overplaying his hand or the ideas at the core of each cut. No matter how many times I took the ride through this record over the past week or so, “Abstractions” remained one of my main favorites…there’s a lot of quality material on Layers Of Light – but there’s honestly a really good chance this first track might even be THE favorite of the bunch when it comes right down to it. Like…every time the album looped over on repeat, and that electrified digital groove started kickin’ all over again, the brilliance of the percussion & all that…the low end drifting through the atmosphere…I mean…”Abstractions” has audibly concrete elements you can easily identify, and that you’ll sincerely love.
Heading into “Ponderance,” you’ll get a better idea of how quickly things are going to move on Layers Of Light – Toby ain’t messin’ around y’all…many of these tracks are within the two-minute range, and you very well might feel like just by the time you got your head around what you’re listening to, he’s already ready to move on to the next song in the set. “Ponderance” is a brilliant example of how the backing layers play such a significant role in so many of these cuts…what we hear up front is great, yes – but it’s actually what’s happening underneath the surface that will really keep us coming back to this track. On a production level alone, Toby’s got outstanding technique and balance featured all throughout this second cut that makes it pretty damn addictive to listen to…there’s a high-frequency melody set in the distance of this song that I could never get enough of…”Ponderance” is another strong candidate for my favorite track on this record without a doubt. One of those tunes that starts out on strong notes to begin with, yes – but where this track flows to & goes to, fluid like water, is nothing short of real genius. The whole second minute of “Ponderance” in fact, is like some of the most understated brilliance ever.
“Desert Heat” spans out into a subtle variation of cinematic sound. Personally I dig it when you feel like the titles of an instrumental tune correspond with what you’re hearing and experiencing…I mean, there ain’t no words y’all, so this is really one of the main opportunities that instrumental artists have to communicate with us. Sometimes it’s a chicken or the egg type thing, and I get that – would “Desert Heat” have sounded like we were out there in the dusty Sahara without the titular clue? Maybe, maybe not…but I’m okay with that…personally, I like the idea that within a couple words like “Desert Heat,” our minds jump to a conclusion as to what that might sound like, and then discover that Toby has found an excellent way of making that vividly real to our ears. I like the mix of curious sound at work here…I like how things spread out into the wide open for that second minute…I don’t have quite the same level of attachment to it like I do to the first two tracks on this album, but I’ll admit that it really ain’t too far off.
“Aka” wouldn’t necessarily follow the same rules as a track like “Desert Heat” did just prior…or maybe it does to its creator, but for us as listeners, it’s pretty tough to figure out what something like “Aka” would sound like potentially before we’d actually experience it for ourselves…sometimes a title is just a title, and that’s okay too. What I really like is that a track like this one sounds like the band Tortoise on a serious high…personally, that works for me. It’s supercharged up on some levels, and very slow moving on others – which makes for a freakin’ brilliant contrast, and speaks volumes about the mind behind the music here. They say “music is math” fundamentally & it’s tracks like “Aka” that move at such a variety of speeds, yet sound as remarkably tight from start to finish as they do, that proves the theory is true.
For the most part though, I think those visual clues through the titles DO end up having an audible effect – take “Disturbance” for example. It’s not necessarily good or evil – but the sound itself does have a haunting effect to it all…just enough to advise your ears of some caution, even amidst what’s actually fairly inarguably beautiful sound on display. There are a few tunes on this record where I do find myself wishing that Toby gave us a little bit more length to’em…not gonna lie to ya about that – for the most part, I’m satisfied with the ability to push repeat on my own, but then I come to “Disturbance” and feel like I could have easily taken another five or ten minutes of this particular track. I’d be the first to tell ya that we all end up attached to certain songs that resonate with each of us for whatever reasons those may be, and we don’t always know why that is…”Disturbance” was very much like that for me. Not so much that I didn’t know WHY I liked it, but that the reasons WHY seemed to keep morphing along the way as I’d listen…sometimes it was for the mystery in the atmosphere, at others for the exquisite beauty we can hear…sometimes for the cleverness of the sound selection, at others for the production overall – but I’ll admit, it’s nice to be spoiled for choice as to WHY we love a song, rather than search for reasons.
“Pulsar” is exciting stuff too to a degree, for as subtle as it actually appears. The bouncing sounds of this slice of Electro ping & pong from the lefts to the rights, and about mid-tune, you’ll get an additional layer of vibrant neon glow that works well too. Not entirely sure how I felt about the percussion on this particular cut if I’m being real with ya…I listen to quite a bit of IDM myself personally, so I’m kind of used to things being…hmm…let’s say a bit on the wild side. What I hear in “Pulsar” isn’t necessarily that though…it felt a bit looser and more scattered, like searching for a way to raise the stakes on this track through the Electro percussion added in, and being a bit wide of the mark in terms of being cohesive. I’ll put it to ya this way – what I like, I like a lot…and what confused me, confused me just as much really – I suppose in that regard, “Pulsar” seemed a bit more uneven as an idea & song, but still enjoyable for the most part. It’s hard to conceive that anything Toby does isn’t intentional…so I’m sure what we’re hearing is exactly what he wanted it to be…sometimes it’s crucial to be objective and hear things from our side of the speakers too I guess…as much as I dig the highlights of “Pulsar,” I don’t know that it was quite up to par with the rest of the lineup on Layers Of Light, and I probably would have cut this one out.
A lot of these tracks we hear in this set-list benefit from the dynamics of the album’s layout as a whole. Like in the case of “Daylight” – would we appreciate it as much as we do without the increased mayhem and madness of “Pulsar” right beforehand? I’m honestly not so sure! I mean, I’ve only heard the album one way, so I can’t really speak to what it would be like in a different order – but I do know that when “Daylight” comes on, the record seems to snap right back into place with the most gorgeous & colorful sounds I could imagine – for real, this is one beautiful cut that’s equally epic. One of the longer tracks on Layers Of Light without tipping over that three-minute threshold still – I think a lot of listeners out there will appreciate the ambitious and adventurous nature of this particular tune. As much as I felt like “Disturbance” was probably the main highlight for me after the first two tracks on Layers Of Light, it’s not until we reach “Daylight” that I’m absolutely sure I found a track I like as much as the way this album began…to me, the direct middle track in this set of thirteen is a genuine gem that is undeniably stunning.
“Rushing” has interesting ideas on display right from the get-go…I dig the low-end infusion into this cut, and how engaging this song really was overall. Kind of reminds me a bit of Four Tet when it comes right down to it…at the very least in the main melody line, which is pretty darn angelic & beautiful, akin to the vibes you’d have heard on the Rounds album. Love the addition of the air instrumentation into the end, and overall, it felt like “Rushing” not only had a significant set of ideas and sounds to work with from the very start, it also felt like it really knew where the final destination was too, resulting in an immensely satisfying experience from start to finish. I’d put this cut in a category with the most different that the album has to offer in a stylistic sense. Toby does an incredible job with creating effective contrast in the pace & timing of his material…listen closely to how things move, how quickly one layer will seem to rip by, while others are moving at a completely different speed, yet everything sounds remarkably cohesive and like it all belongs together. I don’t know how a person goes about defining something like that kind of experience, I just know what I like, and this is that – “Rushing” would take a precise studio ear to pull off as effectively as Toby does it…again, it’s moments like this that speak pure volumes about his talent.
“Patriots” is one of those…like…words that has become fully loaded in today’s world, and it used to be a forgone conclusion that it meant something GOOD. Now we have to wonder about that each time we see it in print…or maybe that’s just me. Anyhow! We’re talkin’ about music, not politics. This one was a bit of a mix for me as well – there are parts I genuinely appreciate at its core, and some layers on top that felt like they didn’t quite knock it out of the park for me as much this time around. Maybe that’s the result of having a title send my mind in a different direction and one I try to avoid lately, or maybe that’s just the genuine reality of how this all worked out…”Patriots” has some great stuff about it, particularly in the melodic aspect and big booming percussion in the mix…I suppose it’s really just that extra synth layer found in the final thirty seconds of it that seems to throw off the balance a little. That being said, thirty seconds is actually quite a bit in the realm of Toby Tune sound – that’s a quarter of the length in almost every one of these tracks…and when we hit a patch like that, it can cost the rest of the song of course. On the bright side, it really seems rare to find anything at all to complain about in this dude’s music, and I’m not even really doing that now either – less than thirty seconds of “Patriots” just doesn’t jazz me as much is all, and so what? The rest of this track is right in line, and sounds fantastic.
As we head into the final quarter of the album and into double-digit territory, “Sphero” is a perfect example of how Toby has been able to bring significantly audible cultural vibes into his style of Electro, dosing your ears with textures that are as refreshingly innovative as they are inventive and invigorating. In a way, it does feel like there’s almost a little less involved with the making of this particular cut on a fundamental level, almost like Toby’s leaning on the strengths in the presets of his digital instruments or whatever – but I dunno…to me, there’s really something special about the way this track turned out too…it’s another cut on the record that’s decisively different than the rest. “Sphero” has a really unique sound to it overall…and it’s the kind of track that, regardless of how you may or may not feel about all that has or hasn’t gone into making it, the results sparkle and shine. The true attention to detail is outstanding…I suppose that’s what was more impressive to me than anything else this time around – the mix is spot-on, the sound-selection is freakin’ spectacular…the timing, the pace, the transitions…I mean…don’t get it twisted, I ain’t complaining whatsoever about what I hear on “Sphero” – I love this.
“Daily Toil” is one of those experiences in instrumental music where you can really feel how the title plays a significant role in the direction of the sound, or vice versa…whatever – you get it – I’m saying that this particular track SOUNDS like the struggle is real, you feel me? That’s not to say it’s a slog to get through…not at all really…but it is a more noticeably heavy vibe and weighted set of emotions at work. Even though this particular track seems rooted in a clearer vibe of emotional turmoil & audible anguish – personally, I’m all about those kind of vibes…so for me, I’d readily take a “Daily Toil” over a “Pulsar” or a “Patriots” any day of the week. Comparatively though…I don’t know that “Daily Toil” does quite enough for the average everyday listener out there than the majority of the set-list on Layers Of Light. It’s not a bad tune by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard to argue it’ll stand out from the rest.
Conversely, the polar opposite of the “Daily Toil,” would be to “Strut” your stuff and be having a kickass day, would it not? The pep goes back into the step of Toby Tune here – and we feel that energy snap back into the record once again. Now…personally…I’m probably always going to advocate on behalf of songs like “Daily Toil” that seem like they’ve inherently got a bit more emotional substance to them, but that being said, don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong – there’s a time & place for a track like “Strut” in life for sure. Sometimes you just wanna turn up some tunes and celebrate the day – this track will help assist ya with that. I don’t think we quite reach that same level of addictive groove you’d find on “Abstractions” at the very beginning of this record, but it’s probably not too far off that kind of mark. I like that every so often Toby seems to lighten up the vibe of the album and have a little fun with what he’s doing too. Creating beautiful tunes is rewarding for sure on an artistic level…threading in a whole bunch of emotion can be cathartic for the soul too – but hey man, every so often, we just need to let loose a little, and turn up the fun factor. Life doesn’t always have to be so serious, and our music & art should generally reflect that as well – I felt like “Strut” is a great example of the fun side of Toby’s vibe.
“Enlightenment” was a stellar way to finish things off. I like that Toby Tune hasn’t felt an extreme need to overcomplicate this lineup for the most part, that he’s kept things short & sweet, and simply given the songs what they require without really giving them an ounce more in almost every case. As a result, you get tracks like “Enlightenment” that still have a wide variety of sound – and a beautifully graceful, majestic vibe to them – without everything feeling overstuffed with air like a bag of chips, you feel me? And I know, I know – I just said all those great things about having FUN with the music on “Strut” right beforehand…but don’t get it twisted – I’m much more about a track like “Enlightenment” – this is pretty much my kind of jam to the nth degree. Part classical, part Boards Of Canada, part fantasy…there’s a real smorgasbord of audible excellence at work in this song, and a genuinely satisfying conclusion to this album because of it. In all honesty, it felt like “Enlightenment” was a real creative breakthrough for Toby – or at the very least, like it contained the SOUND of a real creative breakthrough for Toby…and either way, that made for an exceptional ending to Layers Of Light. I dig the cut of this guy’s musical jib! And I definitely look forward to the next time my path crosses with Toby Tune again in the future – I have the feeling this guy always creates something that’ll have no problem keeping us all entertained.
Find out more about Toby Tune from his official website: http://www.tobytune.com
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