Release Date: May 4, 2018
Record label: Domino
To those who say the album is dead, let the first piece of countering evidence for the defence be Jon Hopkins' new long player Singularity, his first in five years. In it he reminds us beyond doubt that the format is completely valid and can be shaped to even the shortest attention span. Today's predilection for playlists and random shuffle is not wrong of course, but through the ebb and flow of this album Hopkins constructs an intense, immersive experience that transcends the distractions of modern technology.
Jon Hopkins is playing God. That much is clear as soon as "Singularity," the lead and title song on his first album since 2013's Mercury Prize-nominated Immunity, shivers into being. A ferrous wasteland of synthesizer overhung by evaporated strings and guitar merge into a remarkably complete sonic landscape -- the land and sky of a new world, with its own alien physics, its own genesis and apocalypse.
Full circle. In concept, Singularity is humble. Allegedly inspired by an exceptional, mind-altering night, the album expands outward with the same incorporeal logic of Hopkins' watershed, Immunity. Fans of linear balance might be off-put; the album's sequence is an upwards arch. Gradually, we find ourselves less tethered to the physical and more attuned to the spiritual.
Jon Hopkins always hinted at the ability to create a genre-spanning, cohesive masterpiece. He did just that with 2014's 'Immunity'. Documenting the the ins and outs of the party, the album took two sides, from the stunning slow build of 'Open Eye Signal' and crash-bang-wallop of 'Collider' on the first side to a slower, more meditative back end, it was everything the techno veteran had promised and more.
Singularity is the proper follow-up to Jon Hopkins' 2013 breakthrough Immunity, a spellbinding album of highly intricate, glitchy techno which nevertheless felt organic, and even classical at times. Like that album, Singularity is filled with frayed feedback, skillfully crafted beats, and gentle piano melodies, as well as the occasional breathy vocals. This time out, there seems to be an extra shot of adrenaline added, and the album seems to reflect a deeper spiritual quest, both inwards and outwards.
The summer of 2013, for this writer at least, was completely owned by Jon Hopkins' record Immunity and, perhaps weirdly, perhaps not, Sunbather by Deafheaven. Between the two of them, they had created the soundtrack of an entire season, possibly without even knowing, that many listeners felt were - justifiably - the two-standout records of that year. So here we are, some five years removed and while Deafheaven have released a record between then and now (and have another due) Hopkins has been relatively quiet since the release of Immunity bar a few DJ appearances here and there.
In "Cable-car, Dolomites," a 1987 landscape photo by Andreas Gursky, a thick mist covers a mountainside. Its sense of scale is hard to gauge until you notice, suspended in the shot's centre, a red cable car made miniscule by Gursky's lens. You might imagine approaching Jon Hopkins' latest album, Singularity, like someone in that car, in awe at the epic, humbling expanse below.
Singularity was born out of frustration. Hopkins had his heart set on an concept of interlinking sounds throughout his initial writing process; a record that would bloom with beats and melodies like roots through the soil, but after becoming discouraged by the lack of freedom and spontaneity this style would allow him in his productions, he soon lost faith. Like many musicians before him, it was when Hopkins let go off his inhabitations and let his creativity flow naturally that this LP began to take shape.
I will never forget the first time I heard 'Open Eye Signal', the second track on UK based producer and composer Jon Hopkins' seminal 2013 album Immunity. I was in my friend's basement, attending a fun little DIY rave of sorts. In between your traditional club stompers, the massive piece of music blasted over the speakers, causing the other tunes which came both before and after to pale in comparison.
Emerging from an ocean of anonymity with the widly underrated Brian Eno and Leo Abrahams collaboration album Small Craft on a Milk Sea, Jon Hopkins has been proving his worth to the electronic scene on a slow gradual ascent. Singularity is only his second main discography entry since the Eno collab, a full eight years. Not much by pop standards, but in the electronic world that’s a lifetime.
Photo by Steve Gullick "There will be no distinction, post-singularity, between human and machine," says the futurist and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, heralding a not-too-far-away date (2045) when the robots will begin programming themselves, achieving unheralded levels of sophistication and capability. It's either a utopia or a nightmare for the rest of the world, but for Jon Hopkins it is just another way to make music. The classically trained composer has dallied with mainstream pop (Imogene Heap, Coldplay) and heart-stopping folk (his Diamond Mine album with King Creosote is outright lovely).
Whatever proximities we care to chart across the star maps of ambient and electronica, both share a light that typically burns in cooler shades. On 2013's 'Immunity', Jon Hopkins supposedly charted the course of a night out; in utilitarian terms, the bangers were at the front. This year's leitmotif is the intersection of city and forest, but if there's a discernible change of pace on 'Singularity', it's perhaps that the record's harder and softer moments are less discrete.
The way Jon Hopkins describes the process of writing his new album Singularity sounds like a 60s flower child's autobiography. After the huge success of his 2013 breakthrough release Immunity and its worldwide tour, Hopkins took some time off and "set about having new life experiences" including "exploring psychedelic states" in California and learning a Tibetan-inspired breathing technique which, he found, "opened up a new well of positive thoughts". This expansion of horizons is evident in the new album.