Andy Stott must thrive in limbo. For much of the last decade, the Manchester producer shifted restlessly between varied electronic niches. He darted from spartan techno to luxuriating dub and so on, releasing singles with the enthusiasm of a keen listener trying to stake his own artistic identity. In 2011, he claimed that place with unapologetic if muted audacity, issuing two immersive EPs within four months. Passed Me By and We Stay Together flooded his self-made world of gray sounds and surface static with beats that, in retrospect, he seemed to have spent years learning and bending to his will. The deep house thuds of “Cherry Eye”, the footwork splendor of “North to South”, the slow-motion stutters of “Execution”: They all cohabitated within Stott’s new twilit mode.
The addition of Alison Skidmore’s clarion vocals and Stott’s evermore-aggressive rhythms only enhanced the ghostly environment of the masterful 2012 LP, Luxury Problems. Mixing field recordings, vocal takes, and an assortment of technical processes, Stott operated both inside an uncanny valley and within its inverse, making the artificial seem natural and the alien seem familiar. After more than a dozen releases, Stott could now call an approach—a liminal state of the human and inhuman, of the driving and the drifting—his own.
On Faith in Strangers, Stott’s first substantive solo release since Luxury Problems, he applies that kilned aesthetic to an expanding set of sounds and ideas. If that 2011–2012 trilogy found Stott codifying his style, Faith in Strangers is his attempt to stretch it by piggybacking that recent system onto his early adventurousness. It’s a bold move, one made with a new vote of public valediction. Luxury Problems, for instance, began with its most instant hook. Her voice wrapped in a lacework of effects, Skidmore seductively repeated “touch” until Stott’s shuddering beat fell in behind her. But Faith in Strangers starts with something that belongs more on the landmark sound-art label Touch. “Time Away” opens in silence, or at least the room tone of a field recording. A horn slowly intones one note, which decays against a bed of quiet and creepy field recordings. It’s as though Stott’s world breathed in the long-tone pieces of minimalist composer Yoshi Wada and exhaled them through his trademark filter of glitches, pops, and hazes.
Skidmore’s voice arrives for the second track, the stunning “Violence”, but it’s reversed and filtered, pieces of her syllables simply cut off at the root. “Clap your hands/ clap your hands,” she sings as though to tease an audience about a beat that, nearly nine minutes into the album, has yet to arrive. When at last it does, the pulse is one of the most forceful of Stott’s catalogue, the shuddering bass and snare snaps suggesting that the producer has now welcomed trap into his vocabulary, too. But it’s damaged and distorted in much the same way as all Stott sounds. He pulls new influences into his fold without allowing them to push him outside of his preordained spheres—a nightclub built with pillows and wired with headphones, or a narcotics den affixed with mirror balls and strobe lights.
Faith in Strangers starts soft and light, only to have Stott gradually amplify the energy across its 54 minutes. By the time the record enters its second half, it’s climbed from half-graceful, half-spectral footwork to minimal rhythms rattled by enormous bass and lurid synths. And then, on “No Surrender”, an organ run that suggests the house music at Timothy Leary’s Daheim Castle introduces a catastrophic beat. The kick pounds and snares pop through a sheet of static, moving as if they’ve ruptured every speaker system upon initial impact. Stott applies that distortion to the splintered IDM of “How It Was” and, most tellingly, to the remarkable “Damage”.
The meat of that aptly named number is an enormous, bass-backed melody, the exact sort of chirping hulk that turned TNGHT into a set of five adrenaline injections. For Stott, though, it’s just another plaything, an element to drag into his mix. He lets the hook blow out until it’s degraded into low fidelity, and he surrounds it on all sides with caustic noise. The harsh cymbal splashes at the start recall a Max Neuhaus experiment with drums, the clipped ending the manic cut-ups of Hrvatski. “Damage” is the shortest and most magnetic song on Faith in Strangers, Stott’s real shot at a legitimate single. But he rejects the notion wholesale, as though boasting that the rubric he’s rendered simply won’t allow something so straight.
In the last three years, Stott has not only cemented his approach but also upped his ambition, moving from a producer who made disjointed singles to a musician hoping to craft albums with unspoken narrative action. “It sounds cliché to say a ‘journey,’ but it’s got to be a story in some sense,” he told Tiny Mix Tapes of this LP. “It does intensify from start to finish.” At this point, actually pulling that off remains Stott’s main challenge. Despite his increasingly disciplined and unified technique, Faith in Strangers can feel disorganized when taken as a whole. The intended arc from invitation toward aggression occssionally scans more as zigs and zags between a few distinct suites. Still, the separate moments are astounding, evidence of a musician who has managed to remain inquisitive even as he’s established his signature.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uH16jh