[Modern Love, 2012]
Nick Torsell, October 31, 2012
Last year Andy Stott released two EPs, We Stay Together and Passed Me By, both featuring intimidating deep bass and jackhammer percussion. They brought him to the steps of idol-hood for anyone who loved their noise and dance music crushed together. The two EPs were released separately, but functioned together as a breakthrough, allowing Stott the ability to tour more and quit his day job repainting wrecked Mercedes in his hometown of Manchester. Luxury Problems, Stott’s new album released on UK label Modern Love, and his first full-length since 2006’s Merciless, is a masterpiece. With the addition of his childhood piano teacher, Alison Skidmore, on vocals, Stott has made a clear progression and turned in something monolithic and gorgeous.
The first single, “Numb,” calls back to Burial’s Untrue and James Blake’s CMYK in the way it cuts up a straight vocal track into something broken and haunted. Stott on Skidmore’s vocal contributions in an interview with Larry Fitzmaurice on Pitchfork, “I didn’t give her any narrative, I just asked her to send me something. She did some a cappellas, I took chunks out of them, spliced things together, treated the vocals, and built tracks around the atmosphere.” On “Numb,” it sounds as if Skidmore has just been woken up, whispering lyrics with the relaxed cadence of the recently dreaming. It’s contrasted with a bludgeoned bass, resounding with a thud behind her as her words pile up and wind around each other until they lose any sort of ability to differentiate themselves. The track chases it’s tail until all that’s left is a single word, “touch,” repeated over and over.
If you’ve ever seen the press shots of Joy Division on Epping Walk Bridge, you can see how an album like Luxury Problems gets made. A product of the same grey and white town that looms behind those photos, Stott’s album fits amidst the industrial waste and brutalism of Manchester’s outer fabric. Stott mentioned his and Modern Love label-mates Demdike Stare’s affinity for their hometown’s industrial dread in the Fitzmaurice interview, “There’s something about nasty noises that make us pull our faces back and say, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’’ The album’s ability to put something calmly lost behind something dark and forced is its greatest asset. Stott will put Skidmore’s crystalline vocals through harsh bass and percussion without losing any of the original vocal effect. “Hatch The Plan”, the almost nine minute stunner that bisects Luxury Problems, is the best pairing of something kind with something nasty. Skidmore’s prettiest vocal take soars above the screech of a train perpetually about to come out of a tunnel, all while Stott weaves the bass into something snarling and vicious. It’s music for someone to bob their broken neck too.
Luxury Problems‘ title track, however, flips his script. Skidmore finally gets a diva take as she coos confidently alongside a strutting bass line. The next track, “Up The Box,” recalling the way Squarepusher and Aphex Twin do pop, is built around a bouncy hook and water-trickle bass sound that coalesce into a four-on-the-floor beat.
On the last track, “Leaving,” Stott echoes and multiplies Skidmore’s voice until it sounds as if she’s singing at the bottom of a pipe organ. It’s her most stunning take on the album while a house-y synthesizer marches underneath her cavernous voice until it almost passes into dream-pop, then settles back into a sound Stott has been crafting all album long that is wholly his own. For Stott to follow up the menacing techno of Passed Me By and We Stay Together with Luxury Problems’ patient dance music was not the most predictable path for him to take, but now it can be seen as the definitive right one.
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