Monday, 10 June 2013

Jon Hopkins - Immunity


While most of the World are easily attracted to star-spangling laser-shows and 4/4 beats channeled through brand-labelled sub-woofers, the notion that electronic, by definition, is merely some circulatory ear-filler for the masses, is amusing as it is offensive. For a man of Jon Hopkins' stature, most of the World know him - and degrade him, unfortunately - as 'that guy who worked on those two epic Coldplay albums'. A few more (and I reiterate, few) may even recollect his working with Brian Eno. But for those who actually care, they'll undoubtedly look to the collaboration with folk singer-songwriter King Creosote (generating what was possibly the most surprising and rewarding collab albums of 2011); a tantalizing hope from my being that the Englishman's proprietary solo work - amid its raw textures and electronic scenery spanning both spectrum - finally sees the rightful light of the collective's merry day. Without question, Insides - 2009's mammoth in-take of skewed beats, melodic electronica and classicist piano play - was Hopkins' subtle message to the World that his sound isn't some repetitious response to a response to a response of... that both IDM and EDM producers usually find themselves tagged both the victim and the villain of this piece. Jon Hopkins' music, while intelligently and electronically crafted, is by no means a reason for a safe tagging. So while it may have taken four years for another solo outing to surface, Immunity from the off has an unprecedented mound of expectation rising from all around him. And following from what was, arguably, his best solo work to date, Hopkins has as quite the mountainous challenge to climb to not just his long-time fans, but to those who may...just may...have garnered some curiosity in what he can truly offer.

For certain though, Hopkins from the off professes and unwillingness to lower the level of intricacy and challenge in his sound, just to appease larger crowds. The eight-track breadth and wider broad of said tracks' durations should instinctively get the right half of the brain pondering and speculating. Opening track We Disappear definitely conjures a moment of weighted suspicion. Here, the rhythm and the patterns appear slightly more enclosed; drumbeats less-clear or digested into the rest of the mix. Instead, while the more glitchy, crunchier textures are still presently dominant and leading of the music's progression, the visibility of the sounds are lesser than what they have been - bass lines feel lower in order while the off-shoot of synthesizers suggest a slightly more nestled and closed-off-from-the-wider-World vibe. Persistently, Hopkins maintains that charm in detailing his work around its revealing rather than of its content - the track slowly but surely casting more light on the more organic instrumentation while at the same time gradually intensifying the textural friction between these glitched beats and murmuring bass lines throughout. But what's most revealing, and perhaps the most important realization to take from this, is that the track has a kind of pleasant honesty despite its held-back approach when it comes to transitioning itself to the following track. The sounds begin to gain a slight eeriness and dusty clarity as the harmonization finally congests together and, because of the slight droning quality, feel as if being stretched out and let loose in the World.

It's a perfect way to transition into Open Eye Signal, because it gives the album's overall air a slightly more escapist but investigative line of suspicion. And as the last remnants of the previous track's thinning instrumental dissipates, I can't help but gain an overwhelming attraction to how strong and prevalent the feeling of expansion and revealing one's self, this music seems to project. The atmospherics are incredibly rich in detail; harmonic choir-like sweeps fill the surrounding space while Hopkins does what he does best at leading the listener on with a reactive string of synthesizer tones that are at times smooth, and in others mountainous in their scale. Like Insides' Wire or Light Through The Veins before it, the track doesn't waver from its initial course, and succeeds because of it. It's the hypnotic quality to the more microscopic changes in detail; the almost split-second change in scenery (as if glimpsing at natural landscapes on a high-speed train) that give the track's high-noon radiance an even more straddled expanse for its listener. Between the ascension of harmony and content carving of electronics, that more wondrous essence and prolonged sense of discovery ends up leaving the listener forgetting how far/close we are to the end, and simply enjoying the scenery flying past them at relative speeds. The less-obscured beats of Breathe This Air follow in the same light, but this time tend to focus more on bringing light to the environment, even if the tones aren't necessarily awash in deep spectral hues. But it's Hopkins' more palpable yet withheld approach to colour that only strengths the slightly more analytical and self-preserving state this music seems to suggest. Instrumentally, the piano isn't as clear or as controlling when it rises. And yet it's the textural and perspective balance it holds with the more robust synthesizer leads that gives Hopkins' sound a sense of preservation and control. Even if there's a subtle rise in tension here and there, and the electronics do feel as they're progressively teetering on some make-or-break moment, Hopkins clearly shows both control and understanding in how to maintain these rich textures in a state of co-existence with one another.

Even when the album appears to flicker towards more shadowier retreats on the beat-torn tension of Collider, the growing intensities between the continuous rhythm and the mounting textures never really slip too far into dazing the listener with too much detail. Every piece of Hopkins' cleverly-riddling puzzle feels in check and made, more note-worthy, to provoke a supposed visual to match these sounds; the bass-heavy beats are concise yet very earthly in origin; the wavering electronic textures project this familiar dusty, cloudy, yet empty atmosphere while not exactly denying something else might be present; and above all, the changing shifts in synthesizer tone do as much to project a kind of hostility about the environment as much as they so delicately present the listener's/spectator's sense of uncertainty...and ultimately...anxiety about the place. While the overall production and dictation of these sounds does present a very strong ambient flavour, there are moments such as these where I'm inclined to think this music fitting alongside the likes of techno, and even industrial instrumentation in how further-down-the-line the music attempts to guess itself going in - thanks in large to the latter mentioning - finding a kind of recoiling salvation. But all it/we find, is uncertainty and insecurity. Artistically, it reminds me - in regards to how thoroughly compelled the sounds appear to express - of something I might experience on a Clark album or, in another extreme, an early Sigur Ros record, albeit one not so symbiotic and absolute. The fact however, that the environmental aspects to the music feel ever more sentient and/or potentially engaging on both the music and listener alike, convinces me more that there's something I'm not aware of, going on. It's like I'm being watched from a distance, but in a way that's neither conspicuous nor menacing - it's simply happening, and I have no means to either recognize it or prevent it.

In that respect, I can't fault Hopkins for approaching the concept of open/empty space, and its affect on the individual/subject. But this album is, possible by result, not without its less-successful attempts. The track Abandon Window, while does have some interesting usage of simple piano leads - the latter half of the track taken up by a ballooning swell of sound - composition-wise, the track feels rather lacking in content, ultimately coming off as if it's forcing itself to prolong and stretch out in order to achieve its desired intensity. The trick then - and one that Hopkins succeeds so excessively in - is letting the more unstable, more arrhythmic personalities in his sound come to the forefront. Form By Firelight thereafter finds the producer dabbling in even more sub-fields of electronic music - the 2-step garage-reminiscent twitch of bass giving the latter half of the album, on first inspection, more of a stately (yet still isolated) state of mind. The crunchy and twisting quality to the drums more-so emphasize Hopkins' individualist inspection of ambient surroundings. Through it, the progression - be it one that here isn't as intense or suggestive as previous tracks - comes off as more closely-monitored. The detailed changes in synth tone and perspective are present, but they appear so without as much tension, as if being met by something extremely more audacious or hostile. So with this shift in overall geographic placement, comes with it a change in how the listener appears to (maybe attempt to as well) try and envision themselves shrouded by these sounds. 


There's no doubting Hopkins' sequential flow is less that of the hostile contexts that arose in former tracks; catering more now towards the dazed low-key stall of nightclubs in what feels like a very low-brow, low-key escalation. Sun Harmonics' eleven-minute persistence is present in its attitude, but the logic to its depth remains adamant. The conflicting texture and pitches are lesser, but not to the point where the main rhythmic components end up fading from view. There's a refusal to push beyond its emotional barriers, and it's that refusal from imposing conflict, that works. Indeed, the focus on rhythm and sustaining the music's more danceable flicker of percussion and key notation, leaves any suspicion that Hopkins' focus is on entertaining than engaging, surely answered. And while the sounds don't exactly provide the same amount of intricate detail or investigation for one's self, Hopkins' discerned treatment of layering and slight persistence does still give the track that familiarly content, if singular, spaciousness in a place not necessarily associated with space and openness. So on that, Hopkins brings a bold addressing of the more socially explicit and personal attractiveness/off-put on nightly culture, but in a way that's characteristically his own and not simply a carbon copy of what's come before. That charismatic independence is what gives the self-titled closer its remarkable stretch despite the humble simplicity and home-like abode its production plays towards. The piano here still lies in that low trembling level, but its pacing appears to want to reach out further - loops of notation drafting more of a stretching ambiance than previous. It sets King Creosote's faint-but-present vocals up well to add a degree of humanity and presence about the music, and while his voice isn't completely pouring through the whisk of sound, its slur into the overall rhythm comes through enough to add some measure of warmth to a track that, metaphorically comes off wintry not because it's cold-sounding, but wintry in that it simply forgot to put the heating on.

As someone who actively converses - as much as I indulge - about the detail to electronic music, one of the frustrations I find myself tackling day-in day-out, is the unmerited absolution people tend to associate (in seriousness) with music built or aided by machinery. That everything, by default, is measured in numbers (be it 0's and 1's) and that the output is categorically some culmination of bleeps, pings, twitches or any other onomatopoeia of that relation. What you'll find with an album like Immunity is a sound that goes a long way, to disprove such analogies. And in a more extreme sense, proves that electronic music is as much about the harsh realities and hidden beauty to its visuals, as it is the low-key and high-hitting content made for blissful enjoyment. The great benefit then, is that 2013 finally sees Jon Hopkins categorically prove he is as much an architect to his own ideas as he is an incredibly detailed marksman in where it is he's striving to reach towards. For a sound both gestural and structurally different to his previous material, Hopkins carves for himself an album built on continual momentum that as much seeks as it questions the great discovery at the end of the journey. And it's the way he unveils these findings - hesitant or not - that shows with almighty conviction that such peeves about repetition and simplicity are never objectively negative by definition. To come to this album, is to offer one's self the acceptance that atmosphere and tension can greatly adorn a piece. Coming out of it however, and you'll find that judging electronics simply by their numerals, is just one more ruse - with such strong personification and an even stronger line of conviction here - that's easily shattered.
~Jordan

8.6 

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