Jon Hopkins Insides

[Domino/Just Music; 2009]

Styles: ambient techno, orchestra electronica
Others: Gui Boratto, James Holden, Aphex Twin, Ulrich Schnauss, Plaid

If you have never heard the name of this 28-year-old London composer before, prepare to see Jon Hopkins popping up everywhere you turn from this point on. Brian Eno caught wind of him some time ago; he was so impressed that he brought Hopkins along to co-produce Coldplay's Viva La Vida. In turn, Coldplay was moved to the point of reinterpreting an Insides track called "Light Through Veins" for said record, and went one further by inviting him along to be a pre-show deejay and opening act for their 2008 world tour. Outside of that, Hopkins has worked with the likes of Massive Attack, Herbie Hancock, David Holmes, Chris Coco, King Creosote, Imogen Heap, and many others.

With his third full-length and first for Domino, the evidence of his talent is on full display. It strikes me as his single most aggressive release yet. This is mostly due to my personal observation that the most penetrating songs on the album — all of the dense, brooding atmosphere, moody synths, and gnarly bass — chronologically follow a line of lighthearted downtempo and sparse ambient efforts. EP1 collected three sprawling chill tracks, and The Fourth State EP consisted entirely of a single 32-minute fluffy soundscape. He typically comes off as an easygoing dude, and while some moments on his newest album are downright horrifying, they are in the best ways possible.

Insides starts off slowly. "The Wider Sun" gives the impression of a mixed classical/electronic ensemble warming up, with a sorrowful violin and a faintly echoing pad. The track blends seamlessly into one of the record's best, "Vessel," which traces an elegant, ethereal piano progression through a massive bass growl and hints of strings and a field recording. The tweaking of brutally guttural bass exhibited there becomes a recurring theme in several tracks, such as "Colour Eye," "Drifting Up," and the title cut. These four tracks make up the core of the album, and there was little in Hopkins' previous output to foreshadow them.

Of course, there is a lot more to this record than disgruntled bass. The lead single "Wire" would fit in perfectly on the new Gui Boratto, with its rolling melodic progression, fuzzy synth lead, and happy-go-lucky accents. It still has a kick-ass beat, but the mood is a lot lighter than the tracks leading up to it. The closing "Autumn Hill" is also much more reserved, consisting only of an ethereal piano melody, chirping birds, and a subtle hint of guitar.

On the whole, Hopkins has an incredible knack for creating tension with his moments of glitch at key melodic intervals. Unlike the Justices and Fatboy Slims of the world, he doesn't merely mess with sounds to fuck with high people and grandstand live. His sense of timing, the clarity of his production, and the variety of effects he employs draw you into the story that each instrumental tells. Jon Hopkins is not a button-pushing man of presets; he is a bona fide composer and a trained pianist. Craftsmanship sets him apart, and allows Insides to be as incredibly moving as it is and always will be. It will easily be one of the best electronic albums of 2009.

1. The Wider Sun
2. Vessel
3. Insides
4. Wire
5. Colour Eye
6. Light Through Veins
7. The Low Places
8. Small Memory
9. A Drifting Up
10. Autumn Hill

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