When it comes to techno, quality is at times associated with cleanness, where one can make out every break, hi-hat, or snare. There is a pristine sheen that creates a seamless through-line, hiding any of the cracks underneath. Throughout his career, Manchester producer Andy Stott has thrived in those cracks, using distortion to craft sound that is creaking, eroding, and falling apart. By putting these imperfections front and center, Stott has mastered the sound of disintegration, illuminating the beauty that lies in the broken.
Stott’s darker, deconstructive technique falls in line with contemporaries like the horror soundtrack inspirations of Haxan Cloak and Raime or the throbbing, discordant electronic of Demdike Stare. The latter’s Miles Whittaker has been a frequent collaborator with Stott under the moniker Millie & Andrea, from which the duo found a way to indulge the energetic, fun aspect of their sensibilities on 2014’s Drop the Vowels. As this type of sound expands, it becomes clear how a producer like Stott is able to successfully remix artists as disparate as Panda Bear and the doom metal group Batillus, without either feeling like a gimmick. In between the bright melodies and suffocating darkness lies Stott’s middle ground.
As a whole, Too Many Voices progresses on the themes of dissonance that Stott explored on his last solo album, 2014’s Faith in Strangers, pushing his sound further. If that album’s “Damage” sounded like TNGHT played through blown-out speakers, a song here like “Selfish” shows that trap/dubstep influence collapsing upon itself. Stott creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with a rapid-fire assault of breakbeats combined with repetitive vocal cries grasping for a resolution that just isn’t there. Stott excels in that tension, whether it’s on the hypnotic, lurching “First Night” or the foreboding creep of “Over”. Opener “Waiting For You”, a brief intro to the album, is nothing but conflict, as opposing sounds drop in and pop up almost haphazardly, portraying the inner turmoil of a mind at battle with itself, enveloped by a strange cacophony.
As on his last two albums, Stott benefits tremendously from the help of Allison Skidmore, who adds vocals to nearly half of the album’s tracks. At this point, Skidmore is as integral to these records as Stott himself, as her singing provides the haunting backbone around which the music revolves. On the swirling “New Romantic”, Skidmore’s trance-like chanting helps make the familiar unsettling and threatening, the way she repeats “something about you” over and over. Her real display of prowess comes forth on the title track that closes out the album. Blips and snippets of voices surround the track as her melodies build a space filled with contradiction. Slippery and overwhelming, there’s nothing concrete to hold onto, making for a disorienting but alluring listen.
Stott excels in the ephemeral, in landscapes that seem familiar enough but where you know it’s not quite right. Single “Butterflies” is anchored by pitch-shifted, slow-burning R&B vocals, while the beat bounces alongside it. On its face, it almost recalls an experimental take of Nao or Jessy Lanza, but on further listen you can hear all the off-notes and slinking rhythms that keep it something distinctly Stott’s. His most straightforward song yet, it’s a bold direction for the producer and indicative of his skills at bastardizing the traditional.
While any remotely ominous electronic music often gets classified as dystopian, Stott’s work truly serves as a soundtrack of a desolate world, albeit one not as futuristic as we’d hope. Much of his work lives in destruction and rebirth, and embracing that helps to make Too Many Voices his strongest record since his 2012 breakout, Luxury Problems. Throughout the album’s closer, Skidmore’s voice paints a portrait in fragments of being lost and overwhelmed, “11 stations from home, wondering if home will still be …” before trailing off. Stott’s music accentuates these feelings, understanding that in the absence of finding something tangible to grab onto for support, sometimes the only solution is to lose yourself in the void.
Essential Tracks: “Butterflies”, “New Romantic”, “Selfish”, and “Too Many Voices”