ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2013 - #5
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
This is an album full of contradictions for me. I feel, at least in part, that it is a little pretentious and contrived. I’m not sure why I feel that way but I have this nagging feeling that it is a very calculated collection of tracks. However, its sound is unique and, even if you’ve heard Hopkins’ work before this release, it is a sound that seems to have leapt from his mind fully-formed. There are also some beautiful moments on the album and along with Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, reviewed last week, it is one of the most cohesive albums on this list.
The contradictions continue across the album as it marries deep bass and beats, that wouldn’t be out of place soundtracking the sunrise in Ibiza, with swells of ambient synths and reverb; on the surface it is a very minimalist work, but repeated listens reveal an immensely detailed production. It is, perhaps, because of these apparent contradictions rather than spite of it that the album works so well. You’d expect the elements to clash with each other but they work well together and, whilst the constituent parts may not be unique, the blending of the two is certainly a refreshing sound for both the ambient and dance genre.
Album opener We Disappear begins with a field recording of Hopkins unlocking the door to his studio and then, over the course of the next four minutes and fifty seconds (the shortest track on the album) takes us through the music palette of the entire album: Beats that blur the line between drum machines, found sound, and synthesizers rattle against some of the most elastic bass lines I’ve heard all year. The top end is filled out with echoing piano keys and waves of vocals that waver between choral and ghostly. It’s a more upbeat track than anything that will follow but it contains all the components that are explored in later tracks.
The next three tracks continue with the strong, danceable rhythms but, after the relentless build of Open Eye Signal – where Hopkins pulls off the neat trick of keeping a seven and a half minute dance track with a two note bassline from becoming boring – the tracks introduce more and more ambient elements until we reach the melancholic, piano-led Abandon Window. It’s a beautiful song and its simplistic production – piano chords are slowly swallowed by a cloudy wash of harmonic reverb – is stark next after the album’s first 20 minutes, though the change of pace is welcome.
Abandon Window features the albums most prominent use of piano and the apparent lack of electronics serve as a segue into the albums final three tracks, a trio of subdued ambience. The first of these three, Form By Firelight, is the first, and possibly only, true stumble. The sounds don’t quite fit together, which would be excusable if the track actually went anywhere. After two and a half minutes it repeats its opening section and then fades out through nearly two minutes of barely there ambience. Sun Harmonics, the album’s longest track, repeats a similar trick immediately after – though this time it is far more successful. By not introducing all the elements too early on, Hopkins manages to keep the track interesting and it is far more cohesive too. However, tThe 3 minutes of almost silence that close it could have been trimmed considerably.
The album closes with its title track and it is by far the most organic sounding track here, the percussion sounds more like a recording of a rocking chair rather than an actual beat. It is a good end to the album and a very nice track but it doesn’t quite contain enough strands to justify its length and the outro would be far more impactful if it was trimmed by a few minutes.
Overall this is possibly the best sounding record I’ve heard all year. There is only one track I have any real problems with – at least from a sonic point of view – and most of my quibbles are nit-picking: some of the tracks are too long, and the sequencing, placing all the dancier tracks together and all the ambient ones together, makes some of the tracks appear repetitive. Collider is the most obvious example as I’m always struck by a sense of déjà vu when listening to it and find it indistinct if I try to remember it. But these are minor issues and the fact that the album goes on a journey from heavy and electronic to subtle acoustics can help to discount the sequencing issue altogether.
At one point this was my album of the year but the more I listened to it the harder it became for me to justify that. Its fantastic from a production point of view and I have a lot of admiration for it – the hours of work that have gone into are apparent and yet it still sounds effortless. Whilst I admire it technically and like it from a listeners point of view I find it is a hard album to love. So for that reason it is a 4.5/5 from me and only number 5 in my albums of the year.
p.s. this album deserves a special mention for having some of my favourite album artwork of the year. great stuff ^_^