Release Date: Apr 22, 2016
Record label: Modern Love
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
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.
Since hitting the scene in 2005 with the gentle, Detroit-tinged house of the Replace EP, Andy Stott's music has cycled through elegantly deep techno, idiosyncratic takes on dubstep and juke (the later under the Andrea moniker) and all manner of experimentalism. But with the release of 2012's Luxury Problems and through to 2014's Faith in Strangers, Stott seems to have settled—if "settled" is a term that can be used for such an adventurous artist—on a wide-ranging style that takes in both the serrated rhythms of grime and a near-gothic form of melodic grace. His latest, Too Many Voices (released on Manchester's peerless Modern Love, as is Stott's entire discography) zeroes in on those dichotomous sounds yet again, this time synthesizing them to near-perfection.
Like a new type of reductionism, Andy Stott’s music is a complex system that is almost entirely the sum of its more elementary musical parts. “Almost”, we say, because the organic quid completing this abstract circle is the transient art of the Mancunian producer, an array of influences and ideas that can be seen floating in the warp and weft of the digital ether. The distance between genres, that space equally inhabited by innovators and copycats, is the realm in which Stott thrives, being careful not to trespass the imaginary line between techno and futurism, glitch and minimalism, convenience and opportunity.
Andy Stott has always been mercurial, shuffling between slivered breakbeats, decaying dubstep, and a no-man’s-subterranean-tunnel in between, where the only living thing was the electricity still crackling through his durable monitors. Starting with 2012’s exemplary Luxury Problems, the Mancunian producer populated what was once a post-apocalyptic space with as much humanity as his crushing bass variations would allow. Operatic vocalist Alison Skidmore has appeared on record in spectral fits and starts (mere echoes of a warm body he once had in his surprisingly well-lit studio), her dulcet exhalations shading both that full-length and its follow-up, 2014’s debilitating Faith in Strangers, with welcome emotional depth.
Andy Stott's fourth proper album starts with a stream of vaporous and uneasy tones, continually shuffled and scrambled, that impart a mixture of patience and anxiety. Like the following tracks, that one, "Waiting for You," is suitably titled. Odd as it seems, the majority of the track titles resemble those of an R&B release. That's far from the only feature in support of the notion that Too Many Voices is Stott's brightest and most open-hearted work.
Andy Stott's decision to incorporate the operatic vocals of his piano teacher Alison Skidmore into his 2012 full-length, Luxury Problem, was something of a revelation. The move didn't just provide the Mancunian producer with a new sound and a breakthrough record, but also provided the template that he'd follow for both 2014's Faith in Strangers and now, Too Many Voices: destroy and rebuild. On Faith in Strangers, that meant starting over with hardware instead of software, incorporating a drum machine into his sound and learning from scratch; here, it means experimenting with presets on a Korg Triton, having Skidmore try on a more R&B-leaning vocal timbre and, most crucially, leaving plenty of space for the compositions to resonate.
When it comes to techno, quality is at times associated with cleanness, where one can make out every break, hi-hat, or snare. There is a pristine sheen that creates a seamless through-line, hiding any of the cracks underneath. Throughout his career, Manchester producer Andy Stott has thrived in those cracks, using distortion to craft sound that is creaking, eroding, and falling apart.
It's hard to tell whether Too Many Voices, the title of Andy Stott's new album, is meant sincerely or as a quiet joke. On one hand, the low-lit ballad that takes the name is indeed stuffed with voices: it's led by a janky Fairlight choir, whose canned "ooh"s and "aah"s suggest Hounds Of Love-era Kate Bush. On the other, there's only ever really been one voice in Stott's world: that of Alison Skidmore, who wandered into the ruined techno landscapes on 2012's excellent Luxury Problems.
When Manchester's Andy Stott dropped the Passed Me By EP in 2011, its sound was such a paradigm shift for the producer that it effectively obliterated all that had come before. A previous full-length and more than a dozen singles were rendered obsolete; this rang out as Stott's "true" sound and self. The bruising and bleak dirges were diametrically opposed to the dub techno of his earlier work, its depth of bass aligned more with Sunn O))) and Demdike Stare.