The athletic and the lost each discover their limit at the moment of their realization. Gideon Haigh, discussing Shane Warne, writes: “While onlookers tended to resist the idea of Warne as an athlete because cricket involves only intermittent exertion, he achieved at peak energy the paradoxical state that is characteristic of one: immense physicality, seeming weightlessness.” Remembering Berlin, Walter Benjamin wrote: “Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance — nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city — as one loses oneself in a forest — that calls for quite a different schooling.” You don’t get lost; you lose yourself, and in so doing, you achieve a presence more complete than the absent-minded scatteredness that characterizes your daily grind. Just as the athlete wrings surrender from a dedication to mastery, the lost confronts the city as a cross-hatching of the sumptuary and the sumptuous.
A similar paradox animates Andy Stott’s stitch house project, begun in earnest with last year’s marvelous Passed Me By but developed coterminously with Miles Whittaker (occasional co-conspirator and one half of Demdike Stare) and aimed at, in Robin Howells’ phrase, “dragging Techno through a hedge backwards.” Luxury Problems represents an apogee of scruffy elegance, curdled rhythms growling within the crumbling masonry of its bitworn shunt. Alison Skidmore’s vocals — they’re new, if you hadn’t noticed — dimly illuminate a pervasive auroral gloom, shafts of ecru and dun mottled with putrescent tinctures; a mournful, angelic presence — a long-deceased sacristan, perhaps — bleeding through the aether as faint drumsteps crack gravel. A nigh-ubiquitous presence, they only once fail to make an appearance: an unaccompanied mutant Amen takes flanged and filtered flight on “Up The Box,” a panned and throstled junglism buckling against the force of its own magnus effect. That Amen forms one of a few curious echoes of the 90s — the off-center slouch of the title track suggests Weatherall’s remix of “Soon,” bedraggled and recalibrated to the yo-yo cadence of Moodymann’s disco edits — prompting the reflection that the specter of baggy still haunts the canals and warehouses of the cottonopolis. Madchester, perhaps — if it were slightly, uneasily mad, and not just mad for it.
In an interview from last year, Blackest Ever Black founder Kiran Sande complained: “Nobody grills a house or dubstep producer on what their music is actually about, because we know from the outset it’s not about anything, and nor do we expect it to be. But after a while you begin to crave content, don’t you?” For Sande, content equals dread: “Goth, industrial, the hard-edged experimental fringe of post-punk: it’s hard not to be continually amazed at the cavernous drum sounds, strafing synths and insane reverbs to be found on those sorts of records.” The problem here is that, despite Sande’s protestations, content has already been equated with form. Luxury Problems takes the aesthetic-neurosis of black-for-black’s-sake to its limit only in order to return to that “cosy, ordered” form that Sande seeks to avoid. For all of its seductive brilliance, for all of its blurred allusions and semantic teases, this is an album completely lacking that existential impetus that, for Sande, remains “the aim, the ambition… the only one that really matters.” A memorable, impermanent joy, it restores, rather than disturbs, the equilibrium — a feat of engineering in the service of artistry.