Andy Stott Faith in Strangers

[Modern Love; 2014]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: house, stitch, smudge, smear, seap
Others: Basic Channel, Atom Heart, Kane Ikin

The severed edges and perforated design of Andy Stott’s music has a lineage that goes far beyond his 10-year back catalog. It’s difficult to trace, and it can often appear to be misleading, but the texture he assimilates through his sound is what shapes its identity. Whatever that texture might substantiate — call it grit, grime, smudge, cacophony — it brings out the subtleties and the fetishes that undulate beneath every beat and simmer at the cusp of every fade, making each one of his albums a departure from what came before while faithfully adhering to the lineage that makes his work so distinct.

Faith In Strangers marks a breathtaking follow-up to 2012’s highly regarded Luxury Problems. Previous to that release, the 2011 double-drop Passed Me By and We Stay Together marked a turning point in his reach, but not in his flavor, signifying a persistence in style that was also at the forefront of his collaboration with Miles Whittaker earlier this year on their debut album, Drop the Vowels. As a follow-up, Faith In Strangers elaborates on those grim aesthetics, but also on the meshing of voice and instrumentation so celebrated on tracks such as “Numb” and “Hatch The Plan.” It also harks back to the 90s breakbeat, grime, jungle, and dub that has found its way into material by a range of contemporaries, from Call Super to Huerco S.

The feeling that those textures summon — as they flair and dip through crumpled loops, scuffed samples, and flickering synths — is insular and claustrophobic. When you find yourself within that space, it provides a sense of security that few other forms of electronic music are able to invoke. Perhaps the distinctive ambient rush of crystal-hiss that complements a battered and crumbling beat on “No Surrender” invokes this sensation better than any other. I’m reminded of the contrasts Gas set out on Zauberberg and Königsforst, where muffled beats permit the perfect setting for stark and punctuated angle; you are left in the solitary surrounds of the rough and murky beats, which act as a framework for bringing out the more seductive fragments within the composition. Those moments for Stott were more apparent on Luxury Problems, where Alison Skidmore’s voice was pronounced and seductive in contrast to the hermetic underlay. On Faith — where Skidmore reappears on a number of tracks — her input is integral to the disfigured aesthetic as opposed to a dimension set to contrast it; she becomes part of the imperfect textures that give the album its kick.

Comfort takes on an alternate guise this time around in what might be considered a more traditional approach — see the ambient jams that bookend Zauberberg for more 90s techno parallels. Faith is bracketed by two towering pieces that are said to also have been the first two tracks recorded for the album; “Time Away” emerges from the mist of the record’s own expectation — it’s deep and immersive, the “water sinking into sound” that Skidmore refers to later on. “Missing” differs in its makeup — the bass string that defines the track’s boundaries lends more of a human quality. While the former piece is harmonic and split up delicately into segments, it harbors a sense of unease in shallow tones that ripple away at the Euphonium, and it’s gorgeous. “Missing” has far more of an alienating feel to it, which is deepened by Skidmore’s voice, as though she is condemning her audience from a distance instead of reaching out to comfort them.

Those vocals were introduced on “Numb” as words that bled into the percussion, like Skidmore was licking the hi-hat, and although she doesn’t feature on every song here, Stott’s former piano teacher makes her presence felt throughout, dissolving into the music’s texture. “How It Was” is not only the most accomplished piece here, but also plays to the collaborative artistic strengths of these musicians in a remarkable fashion; where “Violence” is punishing and reckless, the former track is as organic as it is mechanical, blurring the lines between a natural ingredient and the devices used to manipulate it.

Elsewhere, the vocals are more contained, less assertive than they are on Luxury Problems, though they are undoubtedly essential. The title track, with its wispy air and fumbled bass line paints a picture of despair through Skidmore’s voice; it takes the album into a more familiar direction, bringing the music closer to us just before “Missing” hits. And although that dank texture presides, the form it assumes belongs entirely to Stott. Whereas a modern comparison such as Colonial Patterns developed similar textural tropes, Huerco S. paid due respect to the earth and soil the album represented. Conversely, Faith In Strangers amplifies human interaction with the elements and the fractured nature of our relationship with them; this might not be the most joyful depiction, but it has been impeccably well documented here.

Links: Andy Stott - Modern Love

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