When Manchester electronic producer Andy Stott first started out in the early 2000s, he shuffled his way through house singles, minimal techno, and heavier dub. Somewhere between 2006 and 2011, he began to form a sense of musical identity; on his Passed Me By and We Stay Together EPs, he honed in on something darker than his indecisive first experiments. Stott was letting his brow hang low, casting a shadow over his hands while they worked. An inevitable gloominess began seeping into his sound, sticking to his equipment and dragging it down. On Faith in Strangers, he perfects that darkness.
After releasing a collaborative album with labelmate Miles Whittaker earlier this year under the moniker Millie & Andrea, Stott has returned, solo, with a lifted chin. He’s becoming a better songwriter, playing with new instruments without losing his old roughness. He polishes his token instrumental brutality while keeping a sense of hope at its core. This nine-song album of introspective techno blends Prefab Sprout with Actress and the subtle genius of Arthur Russell, locking in Stott as an undeniable force in the electronic scene. If he needed confirmation that ditching his job as a car painter was the right move, this is it.
It begins with a numbing drone to clean the palate. Kim Holly Thorpe blows into her euphonium on “Time Away” with all-powerful pacing. The naturally metallic sound hits with a heavy weight, like the acceptance of death’s inevitability and the comfort that comes with it. Stott places his minimalist ideals at the forefront of the record, and from there, he guides the listener through a skittering take on humanity.
For his 2012 breakthrough LP, Luxury Problems, Stott reached out to Alison Skidmore, his old piano teacher, to contribute vocals. The result sealed in his sound. Stott began dealing with textured, overlapping layers, one of the most prominent being her exceptional vocalization, filtered and swollen from reverb. Every coo was an air kiss blown through the speakers. On Faith in Strangers, he recruits her once again, and the two magically reach an even higher ground than where they left off.
Skidmore’s bright vocals are a life preserver amid the album’s inundations. These songs sound dangerous, but her breathy tone rounds their edges so every jutting point comes together to form a pearly smile from afar. She has something to say, and Stott isn’t blurring her words this time. There’s deeper trust on both ends. Skidmore hangs silver tinsel on nearly every track, including bookend singles “Violence” and the title track, her voice hitting a graceful middle ground between Liz Harris and Glass Candy’s Ida No. It’s a subliminal trickle of ‘80s pop into industrial techno, and without it, Faith in Strangers might be jarring to new listeners. Skidmore allows newcomers to hop aboard and admire the chaos stirring instead of the artful detachment electronic music tends to foster.
Lead single “Violence” features one of Stott’s best climaxes to date. Skidmore’s vocals feel eerily similar to a short-wiring robot over soft bass. Cymbals rattle. The spikes of “Time Away” carry over before the bass begins to ripple and pop, physically shaking the speakers. It doesn’t take long before it all begins to run together and congeal like sugary gasoline. “How It Was” acts as the counterpoint, as Skidmore’s gasps slide along the surface of a smooth dance number, interrupted by rusty drums and the occasional synth.
Even with such a prevalent pulse, Faith in Strangers is more than an album that comes to life. It details life from the inside out, focusing on each movement’s innards rather than its outer coat. The found sounds ticking in “Science & Industry” and “No Surrender” sparkle against an otherwise black backdrop. Stott looks patiently inside whirring machines and pulls out their constructed heartbeats; Faith in Strangers is simultaneously a machine and movement, a noun and a verb.
As it comes to a close with its title track, Faith in Strangers explains its name. Stott warms his sound considerably, embellishing the song with glitchy embers that speak to his trust in his listeners. Because of their support, he can fully pursue life as a musician. As a gesture of appreciation, the song takes form as a rolling, gentle anchor that goes beyond his use of analog equipment, proving that techno doesn’t need a pounding beat for the dance floor. Stott has given time its own soundtrack after meticulously toying with its gears.
Essential Tracks: “Violence”, “Faith in Strangers”, and “How It Was”