SINGULARITY by Jon Hopkins
Genre: Microhouse, Tech House
Favorite Tracks: “Singularity,” “Emerald Rush,” “Neon Pattern Drum,” “Everything Connected,” “Feel First Life,” “C O S M”
Jon Hopkins possesses the remarkable ability to build fully immersive atmospheres through sound. His live shows on tour in support of his 2013 record, IMMUNITY, displayed this ability in a way that no other artist has. The songs carried so much more weight when paired with the cinematic visuals on the screen and the slow-panning lighting rigs on stage. It was like a hyper-realistic IMAX; the sensory overload felt too pure to be anything other than fiction. That surreal, truly jaw-dropping experience is replicated through audio alone on SINGULARITY, a record that is simultaneously more ambitious and more reserved than his previous LP.
The UK producer’s career has been a consistent output of greatness, but it wasn’t until five years ago following the release of IMMUNITY, one of the best albums of the decade, that he rose to the forefront of electronic music. His fourth studio album, IMMUNITY was a tale of two halves. The first was loaded with intense, mind-melting techno that conjures organic forest settings rather than dark nightclubs. Tracks like “Open Eye Signal” and “Collider” were frantically intense but anchored with soothing, melodic backing tracks that combined into an otherworldly composition. Breakneck beats over angelic atmospheres gave way to a second half of gentle, serene piano ballads. Hopkins said he was aiming to replicate a night out, and he certainly accomplished his goal. SINGULARITY follows a similar pacing format, but this time Hopkins sought to depict a psychedelic experience, a choice that is evident in every facet of the record.
SINGULARITY’s A-side has its fair share of hard hitting techno, but it’s more reserved than the fare on his previous record. “Neon Pattern Drum,” for instance, takes its time to build, with stuttering pulses that echo in a 5/4 time signature for exactly 100 seconds before a 4/4 kick drum chimes in. It’s a dance tune through and through, but the most engaging aspect is the abstract songwriting structure. That’s less true of “Everything Connected,” a track that Hopkins has been tinkering with for eight years. It was initially supposed to appear on IMMUNITY, and all the components of that album are there: acid-soaked synths, glitchy breakbeats, and drawn-out backing melodies spread over 10-and-a-half minutes. But it certainly isn’t a rehash; Hopkins dissects his own formula and perfects it seamlessly, oscillating between dialing up the beats per minute with a supercharged synth and carving out moments to feature his ambient side.
And while Hopkins has always been at his best on the aggressive techno stompers, the most breathtaking moment on SINGULARITY is “Feel First Life.” Slow piano ballads like this seem to be where Hopkins is most interested at the moment, which makes sense considering he has just about mastered the dancefloor weapons. He’s said in recent interviews that he’s compelled by the juxtaposition of the two styles, and that interest has taken shape in spades on “Feel First Life.” The track starts with the single note that “Everything Connected” ended on and it’s joined by strings and a meditative piano melody. Just about halfway through the song a choir slowly materializes and, over time, they become the sole audio source on the track. The simplicity is a stark contrast from the densely layered songs before it and it makes for one of the more powerful moments in music this year.
“C O S M” builds a rhythm subtly; you can hear it in your head before it’s actually coming through the headphones. And that’s not to say it’s predictable; rather, Hopkins is able to compose landscapes that give the listener a structured frame and allows you to infer the rest before he takes it in a slightly different direction. Subtle head-fakes like this are brilliant exhibits of restraint that set Hopkins apart from most other producers. Misdirection is a tool used across electronic music, but Hopkins manages to fine-tune those moments at a microscopic level that few, if any, can replicate so impeccably. His technical skill is flexed most on “Emerald Rush,” the album’s lead single. Opening with a gentle drum pad while the synth and piano melodies dance around, it starts to show its hand a minute-and-a-half in with a confusingly danceable synth. Then, just moments later, Hopkins flips the song on its head as if he’s laughing at you, saying, “Oh you thought that was it,” dropping in the gnarliest synth on the record paired with a symphony of percussion. It’s an insanely dense track, pasting together hundreds of different elements, but the in-ear composition is fantastic. All the layers are balanced so intricately that it still sounds remarkably spacious, never for a moment coming across as cluttered or messy. Every individual stem has ample room to breathe.
This record indicates that Hopkins has mastered the furious dance-centric component of his artistry. His last three records have been exhibitions in composition, each one showcasing a new mastery. SINGULARITY is the most expertly crafted of the three, taking elements from his previous works and synthesizing them into a 63-minute odyssey that begs the question: How could he possibly outdo himself once more?