- Eyes In The Center, the latest album from Tobias Freund, AKA Tobias., is a refinement of the German artist's recent work. s/t, an album he made last year with the Chilean visual artist Valentina Berthelon under the name Recent Arts, merged synthetic sound and field recordings into loops programmed to avoid repetition. Another record from last year, Helium Sessions, wrapped irregular grooves in dense atmospheres. Though Eyes In The Center resembles the gaseous techno of his last 12-inch, it also seems inspired by s/t's theme of steady evolution. It edges away from previous Tobias. full-lengths in distinct ways, one of which is suggested by the album's title. Sounds that support rhythm and melody—hi-hats, ambient tones—are often the focus on Eyes In The Center. The album directs our gaze to the sounds beneath the sounds, so that they surface in the same way an image might from a magic eye puzzle.
Freund has a well-established reputation for sound design. In his solo productions, techno tracks—whether experimental or dance floor-driven—favour space and precision over brute strength. Eyes In The Center is a close-up of this style. Slender layers of drone, synths and vocals undulate beneath chugging hi-hats on "Cr 24," whose kick-snare combination seems blurred by Freund's atmospheric haze. On "Autopoiesis," drums and vocals are arranged in a panorama. Toms descend from left to right, and the sample—of the late Chilean philosopher Francisco Valera—splits into segments across the sound field. The disjunctive tones on "Beautiful Mistake" sometimes gather in clusters, but the plaintive harmony is where Freund draws our ears.
Eyes In The Center's details are commendably creative, but the intensity of Freund's gaze has an undesirable side effect. The album has a habit of drifting by. On previous Tobias. albums, melodies and vocal loops, in addition to being catchy, were useful punctuation marks. The energy drains down the gaps that appear in place of those devices on Eyes In The Center's opening half. "Syndrome"'s one-note lead, for example, is too delicate to pull you from the wispy lull of the album's first three tracks. "Visitors"'s cycling notes and rasping chords give the album an adrenaline shot, but only once the album lingers on another sleepy section, the mechanised grind of "Single Minded" and the solemn ambient of "In Between."
Freund once said that his tracks always emerged from experiments, not concepts. "The only concept is that I want to make a club track," he told Resident Advisor in 2013. Eyes In The Center does, however, claim to draw from a concept: autopoiesis, the name for a self-sustaining and reproducing system in chemistry and biology—a cell, for example. (It is argued that techno, as a "rhythm that keeps rolling," has similar principles.) But the album is more engaging when Freund revisits tried and tested methods. "Vertic" has a lot in common with other cuts on Eyes In The Center, but a bassline and coiled arps usher the track's subtler aspects—moody strings, booms of thunder—into a transportive space. The closing title track reshapes Freund's dance floor techno in the album's illusory style. There are string harmonies, piano chords and soulful vocals, but all of them are hard to discern behind the bells and claps. Beneath Freund's silky ambient veils, the music's most compelling elements are hard to make out.
01. Cr 24
03. Blind Mass
05. Single Minded
06. In Between
09. Beautiful Mistake
11. El Mundo Será Feliz
12. Eyes In The Center