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Jon Hopkins
Singularity Helen Cocks , May 2nd, 2018 08:28

He’s gone on several trips, and returned with a breathtaking new album

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. Its ambient dance ancestry is enriched with a dizzying array of styles and genres, moods and soundworlds. The original intention of Singularity was to have each sound emerge organically from what came before, but Hopkins grew frustrated with the lack of spontaneity in this method and began to write more fluidly, trusting his instincts with no plan in mind. Thus the declared journey of the album - “a sonic ecosystem that begins and ends on the same note: a universe beginning, expanding, and contracting towards the same infinitesimal point” - has become somewhat blurred and indistinct. Still, it is quite a journey.

‘Singularity’, the first track, does indeed begin on a single luminous note which begins to pulse, building in intensity until joined by the semitone below, followed by the tone above; classic Hopkins, marking this music out immediately as his. After its blissed-out birth, ‘Singularity’ becomes a track for dancing. And it’s not alone. Excellently crafted beats emerge throughout the album in tracks like ‘Neon Pattern Drum’, ‘Emerald Rush’ - also released as a single - and most notably in the hefty ‘Everything Connected’, which Hopkins describes as a “massive techno bastard”.

The celestial theme is often evident: the opening of ‘Emerald Rush’, with its delicate uneven arpeggios, is like music notated from the radio signals of distant stars. As it develops a deep comforting bassline, Hopkins’ way with harmony is again evident - the simple progressions pack a punch of pathos.

But it is in the more unusual textures that Hopkins’ recent mind-expansion - chemical and otherwise - seems most evident. The ominous clicky beat of ‘Luminous Beings’ leads us to a tantalising solo string hiatus which sounds refreshingly novel. We hear Hopkins’ own piano playing too. Although he included a solo piano track on his last album in 2013 - the beautiful ‘Abandon Window’ - Hopkins fell back on a growing smudge of reverb to keep it firmly in the realm of electronica. But in Singularity’s Satie-esque ‘Echo Dissolve’, the audio is left almost clean, ending with a good 20 seconds of silence; and the effect is breathtaking.

None of this is to say there isn’t plenty here for lovers of more banging EDM to get their teeth (and feet) into. But anyone hearing a track like ‘First Feel Life’ - a luminous choral hymn reminiscent of Pärt or Tavener - has to acknowledge that this could be but a dazzling glimpse of the scope of Hopkins’ ability and vision. Keep up those breathing exercises, Jon.

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