Emerging from an ocean of anonymity with the widly underrated Brian Eno and Leo Abrahams collaboration album Small Craft on a Milk Sea, Jon Hopkins has been proving his worth to the electronic scene on a slow gradual ascent. Singularity is only his second main discography entry since the Eno collab, a full eight years. Not much by pop standards, but in the electronic world that’s a lifetime. Or is that just a caricature?
Looking back to the year Immunity, Hopkin’s last record, was released, the other big electronic releases were Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven, Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, Darkside’s Psychic and the Field’s Cupid’s Head, among others. All of those records theoretically could be released today with the same amount of acclaim and reverence. This would suggest that rather than quickly morph and move into a state of unified tones and movements, electronic music’s premier releases tend to follow their own trajectory.
Juxtapose that with the Grammy nominations for Electronic/Dance album of 2013 — Skrillex, Deadmau5, Steve Aoki, Kaskade and the Chemical Brothers — all records that had larger scale popularity but lacked critical respect and permanence. Listen back to those records, they already sound much more than 5 years dated. Is electronic music learning what pop music learned in the 70’s? I think so, that a career trajectory is more important in the pantheon of music than temporal genre or trend adherence.
In the five years since Immunity was released, it has become something of a cult classic. Singularity is the follow up every fan would hope for. It's larger; it's denser; it's quicker. It’s a 63-minute microhouse masterpiece. It rebroadcasts Hopkins’ sound as a more atmospheric, clearer vision. Whether its an improvement upon Immunity isn’t important — it’s a definite refinement.
OK, so the music. “Singularity” is a distilled down six and a half minutes of the entire previous record. Its looping final 2 minutes sounds like a digital earthworm fighting to break through the ground in a rainstorm. Its all build, no payoff, which is perhaps one of the main differences between EDM and IDM. IDM is concerned with the journey only, EDM is concerned with payoff only. “Skip to the drop” mentality couldn’t be further from reality here.
Or perhaps the payoff does happen, on the second track “Emerald Rush” which is an electronic Sigur Ros journey and the kind of track you could dance to if you were alone on a space shuttle orbiting the earth. No one does microhouse like Jon Hopkins, the beat rocks 4/4 time like it's in 3/4 with the second half of the measure reserved for bass drums only. It’s the reverse of the old Radiohead trick: they play complicated things like they are simple, this is playing a simple beat as if it were complicated.
The ambient stretches are rewarding as well. “Neon Drum Pattern” skips like the transmission goes in and out rhythmically without ever escalating above subtle listening for its 90-second intro. The song offers more of course, but the intro is a stand out. The other ambient stretches are pure bliss. “Feel First Life” is closer to Sigur Ros than to Flying Lotus. It wouldn’t be out of place soundtracking one of those lens flare Lord of the Rings slow-motion battle scenes. “C O S M” and “Echo Dissolve” both graze the same territory, with nods to last year’s virtually ignored Bing and Ruth record No Home of the Mind.
Things move quickly from microhouse to ambient for Hopkins, like Disintegration Loops only each song there is more muted rather than repeated. “Luminous Beings” leads a reverse course then, sounding like midi lightning bugs randomly lighting up and triggering an increasingly radiant track. The closer “Recovery” doesn’t so much finish as disappear. The song kind of hits a note and decides it would rather head home a few minutes early.
For fifteen years, Hopkins has increasingly become a key producer in a crowded scene. He represents a continued sea change in electronic music, one that favors repeated listening and patience over brute intensity. A MINUS