Faith In Strangers
Ryan Alexander Diduck
, November 13th, 2014 13:36
Andy Stott loves listening to tunes in cars. "For me, it's perfect when I'm driving on my own somewhere," he concedes, "where I really get to pay attention to music." He's right too, of course. £100,000 PA systems and Beats By Dre be damned; there is nothing quite like jostling a few screws loose with a car stereo, and the visceral tingle of sympathetically vibrating upholstery from a low-end roller. "You can play it as loud as you like," Stott says, "without anybody telling you to keep it down."
Faith In Strangers, Stott's latest LP for Our Modern Love, is the kind of album that craves automotive listening. It is extremely rumbly, which lends itself to the aforementioned vibrating upholstery. And it sounds extremely good at high volume, preferably whilst opening up the throttle in a fast car down a long and empty road (although it does just fine on an iPod in the train, should you rock public transport).
If you're not familiar with Andy Stott's work, now is a great time to start, because he may just be hitting a new stride. Although Stott's catalogue dates back to 2005, it was Passed Me By and We Stay Together – a pair of EPs released in 2011 – that established him as an interesting and innovative artist (and recently landed him a top spot on Fact's albums of the decade). Luxury Problems, Stott's 2012 full-length (what I likened at the time to a dirty "used Benz"), reaffirmed that he was doing something raw and important.
On that album, Stott began working together with vocalist Alison Skidmore, whose contribution pushed his practice into uncharted waters. From those collaborations emerged a novel species of electronic music: a knackered, textured, and time-stretched fusion of house, trip-hop, and jungle. That project is advanced further still with Faith In Strangers: again, Skidmore makes the album sing; there is jungle residue left all over 'No Surrender', and 'How It Was' lurches in and out of a swaggering signature Stott groove, one that leaves me wondering if I'd somehow been hearing it all wrong.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of positive jaw-droppers here that gesture more toward chopped-and-screwed hip hop – and which I imagine would just be so bangin' in a lowrider doing about 7 miles an hour up the boulevard. 'Violence', the album's lead single, sounds like a rusted-out steel-cut trap anthem. And when 'Damage' comes around, it's time to butter up that windscreen, if you've not already done so.
Still, Faith In Strangers has its beautiful moments too, and Stott's melodic sensibility arguably rivals that of his rhythm. Album opener 'Time Away', a six-minute summoning of blurry euphonium played by Kim Holly Thorpe, heralds the arrival of something genuinely heavy; and the record's title track is a work of truly inspired Pop songwriting – a fine blend of electronic, treated acoustic, and manual instrumentation, with Stott himself plucking out the melancholy bass line.
Stott's investment in some good technology is a large part of the strategy behind these fresh aesthetics. "90% of Faith In Strangers is hardware equipment as opposed to software with a bit of hardware, which was the case with Luxury Problems," Stott tells me via email from a gig at Mutek Mexico. It was the process of incorporating external gear that "helped conceive the feel and mood of this record." Not that Stott's previous output didn't have a lush and unmistakable mood – that's what put his name on the bills of big international music festivals like Mutek, and built him a sizable following. But now, that sound is so much more finely honed, well defined, better executed, yet left frayed around all the right edges.
After some chat of listening to music in cars and the thrill that it brings, Stott remarks, "Flying is the next best situation." Which is apt, since Faith In Strangers is next-level Andy Stott. Now, who's up for a ride?