Piers Barber listens to Jon Hopkins’ fourth LP and discovers a rich and textured electronic record that rewards multiple and careful listens.
Jon Hopkins’ formidable new album fittingly begins with the sound of a key crisply turning in the lock of the door to his studio. From inside, the threads of a throbbing, squelching techno beat can be heard, out of which soon emerges the record’s opening track, the beguiling and foreboding ‘We Disappear’. This is the world of Immunity: an album of absorbing textured rhythms, minute attention to detail and compelling combinations of dramatic techno and absorbing ambience.
This is Hopkins’ fourth solo LP, although the 33 year-old producer is probably best known for his extensive extra-curricular activities, including the co-production of Coldplay’s fourth album, Vida La Vida or Death and All His Friends (to which he contributed his own track, the swirling ‘Light Through The Veins’, as the instrumental to hidden track,’ The Escapist’) and his gorgeous, Mercury Prize-nominated collaboration with King Creosote, 2011’s Diamond Mine. Elsewhere, he has composed an acclaimed score for the sci-fi film Monsters, collaborated with Brian Eno, and produced an expansive selection of interesting remixes of the likes of Wild Beasts and Four Tet.
His is clearly a varied and prestigious CV, although fans have had to wait for Immunity, this remarkable journey through the finest examples of textured and intelligent electronica, for Hopkins to fully find his feet as a striking and important solo artist. As soon as ‘We Disappear’ fades into ‘Open Eye Signal’, a pounding, soaring bit of techno featuring jittery electronics and an otherworldly choir vocal, it is clear that this is a record not to be taken lightly.
‘Collider’ is the album’s centrepiece and finest moment, an exhilarating ten minutes of tense and dark bass rhythms combined with soaring synths, which build progressively to seemingly impossible levels to the extent that the track seems likely to collapse in on itself, before it somehow pulls itself under control, drops, and then begins the whole process again. Exhausting and euphoric, it is a dance music triumph far more shrewd and rewarding than typical club fare.
As ‘Collider’ finally runs out of steam and draws to a close, the album experiences a dramatic change of pace, with spacious, piano-led melodies replacing the throbbing baselines that dominate its earlier tracks. As a classically trained pianist, it is here where Hopkins demonstrates the delicate touch in his productions that prompted Brian Eno to seek him out as a long-term collaborator back in 2004. The finest down-tempo moments occur on ‘Sun Harmonics’, twelve minutes of warm piano meanderings and delicate bass progressions, and on final track ‘Immunity’, where shuffling, fragile rhythms form a compelling backdrop to a ghostly King Creosote vocal.
The levels of detail on show make it easy to understand why Immunity has taken over eight months to create. Although it’s expertly arranged electronics at times give the record a strikingly supernatural feel, it is at the same time both tactile and organic, with what appears to be the closing and opening of a drawer on ‘Immunity’ and the tapping of piano pedals and clanking keys on ‘Form By Firelight’ sitting naturally with the smart bass and synth elements such tracks also employ.
Immunity is a triumph that succeeds in existing as both simple yet intensely complex, warmly relaxing yet threateningly exhausting, and hopeful yet darkly foreboding. Although it demands careful and repeated listens, it is so beautifully and carefully paced that as soon as it finishes it is difficult to resist playing it all again from the start. This is intelligent electronica at its astonishing and absorbing best.
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