opinion byBRENDAN FRANK
It’s fitting that techno/dub/ambient producer Andy Stott’s album covers are black and white photographs. The unembellished, drab mechanizations in his songs conjure images of oddly colourless settings, where light and heat are at a premium. At the surface, there’s little warmth to the industrial clangour found within every corner of Faith In Strangers, yet it feels like it has originated from a place that’s very real. And, much like Stott’s music, black and white photos contain contrasts that more vibrant palettes simply do not capture. There is a starkness to Stott’s work, but there is an unusual sort of beauty to it as well.
Faith in Strangers sounds like its basic components have begun decaying before they’ve even reached your ears. While it would have been easy to stand pat in the universe he has hollowed out for himself over his ten-year career, Stott shows himself eager to push ahead, with no real contemporary to challenge him or even provide a basis for comparison. His music simply has to be heard. Teaming up again with vocalist and former piano instructor Alison Skidmore, Stott has opted for largely analog effects this time around, casting his ideas through a new lens. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. Faith in Strangers is dark and damp, but overflowing with sonic detail that justifies a listen in any number of mediums.
If you listened to Stott’s star-making 2012 effort Luxury Problems, then it should only take a single listen to get your head around its successor. Absorbing it all is another matter. The elements Stott throws in one by one become so entangled you often forget where your starting point was. “On Oath” is probably best example of this, building a sonic skyscraper around a spectral vocal sample over a perfectly paced, 8-minute runtime.
Whenever she appears, Skidmore’s fluttery, feminine vocals are the perfect foil for Stott’s emulsified production style, offering a range of styles that don’t always sound human. She sings dispassionately amidst the kinetic crackle of “Science and Industry”, while her distant but sprightly reveries elevate the title track from an album highlight to a must-listen. When she tells you to “clap your hands” on the very suitably titled “Violence”, it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
While Skidmore is more than compelling on her own, Stott’s unconventional production choices elevate a lot of what would ordinarily shake out to be middle-of-the-road techno. On the wheezy “How It Was”, it sounds like the effects have been clipped off, as though the final mix were recorded through blown speakers. “Damage” is probably what a game of Pong would sound like if the paddles were made of sheet metal, while the minimal flashbulb pop of the title track might just be the new watermark for Stott's entire discography. He drapes heavy bass over nearly everything, swaddling glitchy effects that feel like they might float away otherwise.
Consequently, it’s of little surprise that Faith in Strangers strikes the smoothest balance between Stott’s compositional chops and experimental ear. If there were one piece of work in his discography to sway the yet unconverted, this is it. Not dance music in any traditional sense of the world, Faith In Strangers has injected itself into a crowded conversation on originality alone.