Stone Giants – West Coast Love Stories

3 out of 5

Label: Nomark

Produced by: Amon Tobin

In his continuing efforts to reinvent all of reality through sound, Amon Tobin’s fascinating musical projects keep morphing: to include atmospheric explorations under his own name; keeping a finger on the dancefloor pulse with the cheekily named Two Fingers; and then further breaking down the barriers of electronic music by making it sound as organic as possible, through names like Figueroa, Only Child Tyrant, and now, Stone Giants, all with slightly different m.o.s. And while I think not all of these result in great albums – mileage will vary, of course, but the concepts and emotions sometimes exceed the “song” value – I am so into supporting Amon’s continuing expressions of his passions, as it is absolutely fascinating hearing a brilliant musician’s ideas evolve in real time. 

Given my rating, Stone Giants’ West Coast Love Stories does, for me, fall into that ‘lesser’ crowd, but only because I think the idea is purposefully limiting. At the same time, this is one of the most repeatable albums I’ve owned in a while, and I’m completely fascinated by its construction… though not necessarily immersed in the music itself. 

Without trying to pick apart the moniker or album name too much, Love Stories seems to be Tobin rather directly approaching his love for affecting “real” sounds with digital. It’s an album of slow synth washes and patient, pleasant vocals; sleepy, occasional beats; and select moments of almost-there hooks, the organic “guitar” supplied by Figueroa, or, at points, reminsicent of the junkyard orchestration found on things like Tobin’s Infamous soundtrack, though things are certainly much, much more chill here. But the chill is an affect: lyrics – and the way the album withholds beats, and hummable melodies (themes float through; they do not fight for attention) – are very restless, expressing a mindset that feels emotionally open, but distant, i.e. I’m right here – why arent you seeing me? 

This struggle to communicate has a brilliant expression in Metropole, in which the printed lyrics abstract the language so that it’s essentially unreadable. That’s a dichotomy, especially on the A-side: life and technology; here and not here; what’s said and what’s heard. And there’s some further top-down mirroring of that, as the A-side is all fuzz and molasses – when drums finally play on track 3, it might take you a while to even realize there’s now a beat – and then the B-side kicks off with a crisper, seaside melody (Stinson Beach), and goes in for slightly lighter tunes, though still undercut by melancholy. 

But, as intriguing as this is conceptually, it is, as mentioned, rather distancing in effect. Tobin avoids musical swells: while West Coast Love Stories is dense with synths and layered vocals and treated instruments, it feels mixed together, and not separated out highs and lows. Songs never arrive ar conclusions, and when they do build – most of them sway in place – it’s only to suddenly go silent, for the next track to begin. But it’s also too present to become background, or drone. Again, this vibes with themes – this inbetween state – but I can’t say it makes any track feel especially memorable, or necessary, as a single, or component of the album. Setting aside the A- and B-side comparison, you could mostly move tracks around, or remove some, of the effect and impact would be the same. Meaning, unfortunately, that without the Tobin pedigree, hearing this at random may not net much interest. 

But that’s okay. This isn’t an artist just trying on different hats, rather purposefully laying out outfits and looking good in each of them… but not settled; looking ahead to the next outfit. It’s fun to watch. And ditching the metaphor, with Tobin, it lends itself to more than watching – studying the music (how it sounds; how it does or doesn’t make you feel) is part of the enjoyment, and West Coast Love Stories – while ephemeral as music – offers a lot in that regard.