Destination anywhere-but-ambient, as Jon Hopkins’ spaceship opens its door once more
The word “prolific” doesn’t even come close to describing the career of English DJ, producer and electro maestro Jon Hopkins. Perhaps dropping his fifth studio album in 17 years doesn’t sound like a lot. But once you factor in his singles, remixes, touring, DJ sets, production and soundtrack work, and it seems like we’re never more than a heartbeat away from new Jon Hopkins music.
That being said, anticipation is rife for Hopkins’ latest album Singularity, particularly given the five-year pause since the Mercury Prize-nominated Immunity. An ambient microhouse record of organic-sounding techno, it garnered deserved plaudits back in 2013.
Now, Singularity sees Hopkins taking a darker, less ambient, but just as transcendent route. The title track opens the album sounding anything but sparse; cyclical, with thumping beats, wavering synths and a bleeping, insistent melody line from Mars. It might feel like a catamaran ocean journey at night, but it’s one through choppy waters, especially when a vicious breakdown ushers in a new and pummeling beat around the three-quarter point.
At times, this isn’t the sort of album you can waft along with. Although the minimalist piano drops of Echo Dissolve are a blessing, at times the effect of Singularity is drenching. If Hopkins’ last proper full length album Immunity helped you to drift off to sleep at night, then Singularity is something to put on before going out, to psych yourself up for a long night of dancing.
Whilst Immunity housed the sort of music to soothe anxious flyers through a dreaded plane journey, Singularity sounds as if that journey takes the listener into a black hole. Tracks like the gurgling Luminous Beings feature gasping beats ripping the entire doomed craft apart leaving us totally exposed to the debris all around. It’s one hell of a trip.
Gone are Immunity’s comforting breakbeats and in fall more disconcerting time signatures, like the hanging beats of Emerald Rush. There are far more hair raising textures too, the intro of Neon Pattern Drum taking place inside a magnetic field, with sounds and volumes being dragged mercilessly around by some unseen, irresistible force.
By the time the track evolves the album’s first side into 80s synth lines and bleating Field-esque squawks of notes, the damage has been done, and the listener is sonically traumatised.
Everything Connected’s muted intro gives way into clacking beats and stomach-dropping chord changes which feel like drops in pressure. When it finally opens out into a stunning, wide-channelled vista and everything but a shrill synth line drops away, it feels like only a brief respite. This proves to be true when the bass and beats kick back in, vicious as ever and barrel both track and album to a midpoint.
When we reach that midway peak on Feel First Life, it’s a gorgeous moment of weightlessness. This is mirrored by the album’s glacial piano on the pastoral outro Recovery, which sounds like an alien world being terraformed. The journey down the other side of Singularity’s glass mountain perhaps isn’t quite so startling as its first side. But Hopkins still diverts us through dark pools of Warp Records electro and churning undercurrents of bass on C O S M and Luminous Beings before the pretty resolution of Recovery.
It’s all there in the titles really, if you haven’t been paying attention. Immunity was all about cosseting the listener, and wrapping them up in cotton wool; it’s a safe world, where nothing can hurt you. Singularity’s universe is something far more malevolent and dangerous, with sounds that are more jagged, connoting fates too dreadful to comprehend.
Whether that sounds like a dream or a night terror depends on your personal tastes, but Singularity is one of the most remarkable sonic journeys of year so far.
For fans of: The Field, Autechre, Four Tet
Standout tracks: Singularity, Neon Pattern Drum, Luminous Beings