Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Andy Stott - Luxury Problems

 

When it comes down to it, Andy Stott doesn't bullshit when approaching music. The Manchester DJ and producer may seem like a man who comes across as never satisfied to the point where he's unable/unwilling to see the finish line in sight, but the want and need for a deliverance devoid of any clear readability or potentially dangerous refinement of it, avoids coming across as a sound that is without its substance. Reflected more in the fact that each of Stott's four full-length releases - 2012's 'Luxury Problems' included - presents a simplified black-and-white reduction of subject matter, whether it be the person or the persona of such a subject, the same can be said for Stott's music and how his indulgence of beats, melody and progression carry a kind of weighted context when they find themselves combined, altered, distorted and then finally laid out to us. Stott, while never one to pass the 10 mark in his track-listing - favouring instead the discovery and expansion of individual songs as opposed to the longevity of an album - it opens up the more intriguing opportunity of both artistic and musical development in Stott's own ideas as a producer, and how he goes about mixing and layering such loaded brainstorms. And here, Stott's latest offering is no exception to that rediscovered potential as music far removed from a sense of individualism.

The Mancunian is known for disembodying the idea of vocals as phonetics and reconstructing them more as looping instrumental patterns, themselves. And the album's opener 'Numb' is no exception to this rule. Even when the vocals are integral enough to offer some kind of rhythmic clarity as to what they're saying, or trying to say amid all the fog and frothing of bass that builds about the track, in equal measure the vocals are chipped away and somewhat re-imagined as an addition to the music's slow-but-steady rise of atmosphere. What starts as a somber ushering of voices and echo soon thrives with a kind of darkly ethereal energy; the claustrophobic heartbeat pulsating soon-after taking full control of the music. And while this element does become dominantly involved with the way the track is layered and mixed overall, it's the fabrication, and even the innocence, of these vocal sections that bring about a much more mesmerizing feel to the track. Better yet, because this is a track that looks and feels more fitted for experimentation and lacing of such experimental effects, the music itself doesn't sound demoralizing or even empty because of its length.

'Lost And Found' does indeed seem a worthy title for a track that begins quite submissively contorted and disjointed with the same clarity and fabric of what most would define as minimal-techno itself. But even the voluted shape in the track's atmosphere only adds to its punchy but refined rhythm of beats and swirling ambiance. Vocals again become almost caught between clarity and obscurity, but here rather than simply submitted or applied to the structure of the music, the vocals feel a lot more responsive and reactive to what's taking place here. There are low monk-like murmurs hidden in the background, harmonic female tones in the foreground, and the sheer juxtaposition of these differently-sounding differently-shaded vocal components only pulls the track from atmosphere height to something a lot more energized and thriving with life, be it a kind of baron, earthly, sentience as far removed from humanity's presence as one could envisage. Certainly there's something irrevocably withdrawn about the sound's radiating from this album, but that doesn't mean the music loses any means of engagement or response from the listener.

Most of the sounds you'll hear on this album are indeed testing and speculative, to say the least, over what sort of manifestation or physicality is being attempted a [re]creation of. But even when the music itself could be taken as more abstract than identifiably possible, as is the case with 'Sleepless', it's Stott's mechanic of rhythm and pacing that adds a kind of thunderous synthesis to what is initially a billowing of gaseous texture. The way the momentum and drive of drum beats elevate and then begin punching away at the fogginess of the track not only makes for this volatile clash/mesh of physical and non-physical, but the grainy, sandy texture of Stott's electronics envelopes the track in this forward-thinking but still cautiously-tense atmosphere of wind, dust, fog and overall uncertainty. The obscurity of it may not be as ambiguous or as startling as other albums that have chosen this path for sound exploration, but Stott's balance is what shines brightest out of all of this, even if the shine is more of a sepia grayish shade.

'Hatch The Plan' then is Stott's most monochrome and deep-rooted track of the lot. The track begins with an immense and emotively conjuring graininess of drone and ambient textures, that soon shifts into a rich and pulsating flow of bass that draws influence from dubstep in its deliverance. The drawing-out of female vocals again create a more harmonic and humanistic character to the track's identity, and while it does continue that similar juxtaposing of track components, Stott's execution here feels less effective and runs dangerously close to sounding like a stretched-out rehash of previous tracks' success. So of course there are of moments here - as you'd expect on a record that chooses to focus less on a multitude of ideas and more on the expansion of a few - where the overall execution doesn't work as well. Vocals may not play as well a part on a track like 'Luxury Problems' likewise, but it doesn't affect the track to the point where the overall deliverance is a failure. Stott's metallic, almost rusty grinding of beats sits neatly alongside the more upbeat percussion on this track - the continuing billow of fog, and lack of clarity because of it, giving an even more condensed but engaging aliveness to its atmosphere. Even when Stott seems to splice and fling some kind of popier more-open flung of beats in certain places gives the track a more humane identity to itself.

'Up The Box' continues along this path of revitalizing the sound and bringing it out of this darkly cesspool of ambiguity. But while the opening third does well at breathing immediate life into the track - Stott's vibrance of quickening percussion hits, hammering beats and wavy rolls of effects and the like working wonders to the track's rhythm and momentum - there's less of a sense for expansion or even interrogation of these elements. Much less, on comparison, to what there was earlier on in the record with first two or maybe three tracks. The track does offer an interesting and quite engaging breakbeat section in the later parts of the track, but against the run of the track's previous parts, it all feels a little desperate and ill-placed. The final track 'Leaving' almost removes itself completely from the concept of distortion and instead focuses on the tonal and layered placement of vocals that here feel far more reactive to the music, which here is driven primarily by a buzzing squirming of synthesizers. But the relation between the two makes for an appealing listen and the track's fairly ambient limitation in direction actually does the track justice - the sense of hesitance or perhaps wariness of progressing forth gives the track this bubbly concocting of clarity, and the lack of it in equal measure.

Certainly this is one of the better-sounding better-executed deliverances of atmospheric electronic music as of late, and a worthy addition to the rising pile of minimal-techno albums to be heard this year. Andy Stott certainly lives and breathes an admirable but unfathomable courage, let alone confidence, in going about looking into this region of music. And while 'Luxury Problems' does feel more like a referencing to previous albums - and one that looks beyond the techno horizon and into different scopes and spectrums of electronic music, in order to transcribe the emotions and necessary meaning to its sounds - it doesn't take away from the overall effectiveness the music here has in conjuring some means of imagery or atmosphere over the way these track's unveil or even shelter themselves from clear visibility. Certainly this is an album that lacks any outright bold or imaginative colour, so far as its cover may imply - I can't imagine then, what to expect if the next release decided against gray-scale and moved not just one, but several steps into the former.
~Jordan

8.1

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