Andy Stott Too Many Voices

[Modern Love; 2016]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: house, techno, blind belief
Others: Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, The Insider

Amidst an increasing level of uncertainty within the neo-futurist landscape, there emerges an obscure trio of imagined narratives: music for a futuristic ecosystem void of human presence as it exists in its current form (Angel-Ho, Chino Amobi); music that broadcasts imminent versions of human interaction into a distinctly mechanical setting (Atom Heart, I-F); and music that propels present versions of our own lives into a neo-futuristic environment (Dead Can Dance, Coil). There are others, of course, but these approaches are prevalent because of their staying power and because of the profound dissimilarity between each of the associated artists.

Andy Stott typically slips through the cracks in all of the above narratives. His shifting disfiguration of Detroit techno, grime, house, and industrial music has meant that his releases often defy categorization and are deeply penetrating as a consequence. However, in coming to terms with Too Many Voices, he referenced Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil as influences in sculpting his latest sound. These practitioners’ past projections of the future are pivotal, not because of the technicality driving their work, but because of their attitude to everything that they believed was set to follow.

In the gothic sketches of Dead Can Dance’s Spleen and Ideal, where Lisa Gerrard sings of a craving for intimacy and a future that “will ease our troubled minds,” there is a sense of direct engagement that shapes our conjoined future and how that will impact on a visceral level. Too Many Voices plugs straight in to that notion, where distant prospects are steeped in the unknown, and yet we remain intrinsically connected to it as individuals. The compositional traits that Ivo Watts-Russell and Brendan Perry deployed by way of that association are also apparent here — heightened emotional tension of the present seen through a futuristic lens. But where This Mortal Coil softened the blow of tracks such as “Come Here My Love” and “The Horizon Bleeds and Sucks its Thumb” with gentle ballads, delicate interludes, and folk covers, Stott retains that level of intensity on Too Many Voices without having to strike a compromise. It’s home to some of his most severely commanding and disturbingly tender songs to date, but it’s impossible to forget from where the compositional roots emerge.

To venture a little deeper into those musical connections, the sentimental dynamics that existed between Lisa Gerrard and both Brendan Perry and Pieter Bourke molded their music throughout its evolution. In an interview with Pitchfork in 2012, Gerrard said that for her “the future right now is that we’ve committed ourselves to bringing back to life or nurturing those things that we’ve built together over the last 30 years.” It’s baffling to think how that might play into a neo-futurist narrative, but the relationships responsible for creating those musical impressions have some added resonance here. Alison Skidmore has been an integral part of Stott’s previous two albums as his primary vocal contributor, but it has always been Stott who forms the musical structures shrouding her voice: “Her style of singing is the polar opposite end of emotion and feeling to my production, and that’s the balance I tried to keep,” he told FACT not long after the release of Faith in Strangers. Perhaps as a consequence of looking back toward those artists, the musical partnership between Stott and Skidmore seems to have grown stronger within the context of examining dimensions of future vs. past or indeed present vs. future.

Skidmore reflects that most profoundly on the title track, when she sings the repeated line “11 stations from home/ Wonder if home will still be […]” That feeling of doubt about the distant future is drawn in to reveal an apprehension more immediate and, again, more personal. That it refers to an admission of knowledge concerning the recent past (what “home” used to be) underlines the importance of this personal component within such a narrative. Musically, references to Stott’s compositional past can be found embedded within each track, because in spite of being able to radically skew his stylistic tact across each album, his trademark signifiers are what make this music unmistakably his. The deep and pungent bass lines of Passed Me By can be found interspersed amongst vocal loops on “Selfish,” while the dark ambient dirge of Mancunian counterparts Demdike Stare is laced throughout “On My Mind” as it spins an uncharacteristically hopeful melody.

As an outsider to this intricate dialogue, Too Many Voices ensures a captive audience from the beginning, where dark textures are plunged into high-pitched shimmering on “Waiting For You.” It’s a statement that this album will be different from what came before it, even if those signifiers hold a feeling of familiarity. It’s as though Stott can’t quite let go of his past, but he is eager to move on and take his sound in a new direction. Stott has spoken before about not wanting to make the same album twice, and there is no danger of that here. So when there are hints at wishing to bring aspects of the past (emotion, experience, relationships, even technique) into the future, they are accounted for without restraint, cut by the lyrics of the title track and bound by recollections of earlier material.

Despite the complexities that make this such a multi-faceted and intrepid addition to the Modern Love catalogue — Stott’s musical rapport with Skidmore, aesthetic signifiers, musical influences — Too Many Voices is an immersive experience that builds on the artists’ past without once holding them back. Although fresh approaches are introduced from the opening track onward, there are heartening returns to the tested formulas that give Stott his gritty edge. Through embracing narratives set in a future that veers away from an anticipated musical trajectory, Stott’s music has never been more difficult to swallow, even amidst all the appeal.

Links: Modern Love

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