Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Faith in Strangers Review: Concrete and Melody with Andy Stott

Andy Stott's new album Faith in Strangers can be streamed here.

Whilst a large part of the techno world moves ever closer to industrial four-to-the-floor oblivion, Andy Stott is going in completely the opposite direction. As he issues a new record on long time home Modern Love, the Manchester producer is vastly diversifying his scope, citing reference points as disparate as “Ron Hardy, Prefab Sprout, Dome, Actress, Cocteau Twins and Arthur Russell”. All of these artists fall some way from the concrete-heavy dub techno for which he's become known, and what's more surprising than the list of influences is the fact that they can all be heard within the masterpiece that Stott paints with Faith in Strangers. The chugging steam-powered 100bpm dirges are still there, but they're accompanied by something entirely different.

Time Away” sets the tone, a palette cleanser with mournful chords, smothered in ferric tape hiss. At first lead track “Violence” appears to continue the theme, beginning with hushed vocals from Stott's former piano teacher Alison Skidmore. But within three minutes all hell has broken loose; sub-bass tremors the weight of tectonic plates slide in followed by a beefy kick, before Skidmore's vocal is swept aside by jagged glacial synths. After a spine-tingling onslaught, calm falls and that vocal resurfaces, slathered in reverb. This interlude is merely the eye of the storm, as the track's bewitching brutality soon returns.

An Oath” is more optimistic, slow but determined, propelled by a stuttering rhythm and, once again, Skidmore's breathy vocal, which here more clearly illustrates her operatic pedigree. The work that Stott and Skidmore have produced here feels more integrated than on 2012's Luxury Problems. That's not a criticism of their last record (which was itself a stellar achievement), it's just that whereas previously the melodious element was solely derived from Skidmore's tones, Stott has now adapted his style to absorb and more wholly complement the vocals.

That said, there's nary a word in sight on the album's bruising middle section, which stretches from the quasi-eastern chimes of “No Surrender” to the threatening “Damage”, encompassing the dubby “How it Was” in between. It's on this part of the record that Stott most resembles his genre-bending alter-alias Andrea, the moniker under which he released a collaborative LP with Demdike Stare's Miles Whittaker earlier this year. Although none of this material is club-ready, this is where it comes closest, with trap-like percussion and high energy levels.

After this the record begins to slow again, seguing into the gorgeous serenity of the title track, which, were it not for the serrated saw-blade sounds in the middle, could almost be the work of some longforgotten twee 80s group from Glasgow. “Faith in Strangers” is as close to creating a “song” that Stott has ever come, on which Skidmore narrates a morning in the life of a man who “wakes up in the morning, lights pressing on his eyes”, and barely recognizes his own face in the mirror. As she sings of the pillow he wakes on and the “celebrity pages in the paper”, the mundane becomes the beautiful and the track manages to convey both yearning and acceptance.

The curtain closes with “Missing”, a forlorn bluesy lament that could almost have been cooked up at a New Orleans jazz funeral. With this the journey is complete, Stott and Skidmore have held our hand through their murky, grime-encrusted, but beautiful world, where subtlety and power exist in equal measure. Reviews of Luxury Problems described an artist creating his definitive statement. Faith in Strangers finds Stott making an entirely new one.