Across producer Jon Hopkins’ back catalog, only four tracks exist that extend beyond seven minutes — three of which can be found at the tail end of 2009’s Seven Gulps of Air EP. A cavalcade of electro-acoustic productions following his work with Coldplay, the EP contained a broad splash of Hopkins’s abilities over a short tracklist, from the ambience of “Drifting Down” to the unbridled IDM within the title track. Since then, Hopkins has shied away from elongated digital schizophrenia, choosing to concentrate on emotive minimalism. Hopkins being a production chameleon, 2010’s Monsters was all aural vignettes of analog tension and 2011’s Diamond Mine, created alongside Scottish singer/songwriter King Creosote, was electro-folk at its height of symbiosis.
These conceptual detours have given Hopkins the confidence to produce what he has dubbed “the most human electronic album you’ll hear this year” with the eight-track Immunity — four of which run past the 7:00 barrier. Lofty words during a year when artists like Daft Punk, Matmos, and Bonobo have already released electronic albums replete with humanity and Boards of Canada are currently teasing their forthcoming effort Tomorrow’s Harvest. However, without that self-confidence, no producer is capable of the audacity that beats through the combined 13 minutes of “Open Eye Signal” and “Breathe This Air”.
Fusing a crisp electro-house bassline (six-minutes in the track could be confused for a deadmau5 edit) with a subterranean bite that draws from underground legends like Rabbit in the Moon and Josh Wink, “Open Eye Signal” is a window to a style of music that recent Hopkins converts might have previously been unaware. As the tracks slips into decay, “Breathe This Air” pushes through the remaining sonic muck until it reaches a plateau and gives way to an angelic synth serenade. That grace itself is fleeting, falling back into the chaotic reaches of a glitchy bottom end. The beauty is not lost, Hopkins just places a real-word faÃ§ade on his delicate textures. Nothing in reality is without flaws and neither are Hopkins’ productions.
Akin to Moby’s 2011 Destroyed, Immunity listens like a living saga of its narrator’s restless moments: emotions are thinly veiled, intent is a second-thought, motifs quickly enter and abandon a track like a fleeting dream, and the barrier is broken between performer and listener. Relying little on actual lyricism, Hopkins arguably does it better. No names are exchanged or an entire word uttered, but still we as listeners feel entangled within the sensual exploits of “Collider”. Commencing with a series of moans, senses are immediately perked; as the synth waves grow darker a forbidden essence begins to envelop the track, and as the melody is repeatedly jarred by the underlying repetition the listener becomes numb to the larger world and hypnotized within the intimacy.
In contrast to Daft Punk, who have indicated that the only way to save electronic music is with fewer electronics and more live contributors, Hopkins recreates the human experience through collectively visceral soundscapes. The most acoustic selection on the album, the piano arrangement and orchestral ambiance of “Abandoned Window”, encapsulates the loneliness of its title. Questionably formulaic in its approach to a cinematic score, the track would be fine accompaniment to a long walk following an untimely separation. In “We Disappear”, the album’s lead-track, a series of Amon Tobin-esque broken rhythms transport listeners from the normal task of unlocking a door (a strategically placed found sound) to a psychedelic journey along a distant astral plane.
Now with nearly 15 years spent as a recording artist, Hopkins understandably wants to make the journey stretch as far as possible. On the penultimate track “Sun Harmonics”, Hopkins has constructed an environment for fans to turn to during times of needed relaxation and introspection. Containing only minor tempo shifts, the track starts off as whimsical fidget house, morphs into left-field techno, and concludes some 10 minutes later as ethereal trance. Pleasing to the stalwarts of old-school techno, the substantial repetition might be trying to a portion of Hopkin’s base unfamiliar with his pre-2010 output.
Initially, it seems Hopkins suggests that we must abandon aspects of technology and electronics to find humanity – a tactic he is more than capable of as an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. But after spending hours with the album it’s evident that Hopkins is using technology as a means for us to reclaim the humanity within our everyday lives. The album’s title, and final, track leaves off with closing acoustic elements, but is still saturated in dissonance and production affects to capture Sigur Rós levels of enchantment. With King Creosote, Hopkins created an LP to appease his acoustic side. On the other hand, like the majority of media consumers who prefer to stay engaged with their tech, Immunity attests that technology can be a tool for a new era of collective human existence.
Essential Tracks: “Open Eye Signal”, “Collider”, and “Sun Harmonics”