Album review: Andy Stott, “Faith in Strangers”

By Cameron Seibold

seiboldca@mnstate.edu

Ever since I heard Andy Stott’s EP “Passed Me By” in 2011, I knew I had stumbled upon an artist who I would keep an eye on for the rest of his career. Andy Stott is a Manchester-based electronic music producer who has roots in techno and dub techno. That said, he has evolved into something so much more over the span of his 10-year career as a producer.

“Faith in Strangers” is another step in the logical progression of Stott’s sound over the past three years. He has continued to work with vocalist Alison Skidmore, his former his piano teacher, as he did in his 2012 release “Luxury Problems. ” This time he added the cold, modern, overdriven digital elements that were present on the 2014 collaborative effort of with cohort Miles Whittaker “Drop the Vowels” to create something completely unique and completely his own.

The first track, titled “Time Away,” is a gorgeous exploration of a misty world of droning fog horns and strings. Enjoy the moment of solitude. It takes nearly 9 minutes into listening to “Faith in Strangers” to be greeted by any percussion whatsoever.

“Violence” quickly sets the mood of the next 40 some minutes of the album. A master of vocal manipulation, Stott quickly works Skidmore’s haunting voice into the mix. Just when a semblance of a tempo becomes apparent, the sub bass rumbles into existence and Stott steals the listener away into a world of crunchy overdriven trap-style percussion and unique rhythmically-driven music box melody that swells under the surface, teasing until it becomes fully apparent.

The next track, “On Oath” includes a generous portion of vocals and vintage drum machines, building up to an intense display of jungle-inspired drums that are used as melody as much as they are used as percussion. Each hit is pitched up and down, taking inspiration from tracks such as “Up the Box” on his previous release. When listened to closely, the use of phasing white noise and digital artefacts (that are usually a product of recording in a more lo-fi circumstance) are used to the moment’s advantage, creating a feeling of movement and space in the sound, almost like being in a vacuum of noise.

The following track is quite toned-down and more on the traditional side of things, although still very much unique to Stott’s sound. More on the atmospheric side, “Science and Industry” includes scattered machine drum percussion and beautiful vocal harmonies. I think the showcasing of Alison’s vocals is important in this track, as they are nearly unheard for the next three in a row.

“No Surrender” is true to its name and relentless as ever. Harshly overdriven synth arpeggios start off the tune and build up into a merciless peaking-on-the-mixer jungle beat that will be familiar to anyone within the rolling 150-170 BPM side of the underground. When Stott steps up with jungle style breaks it’s a match made in heaven.

Up until this point in the album, we haven’t even really heard from Stott’s traditional techno roots. “How it Was” brings us back to those roots with a four to the floor beat over top of rhythmically cut vocal samples, atmospheric synths, bleeps, and shifting loops that sound like industrial machinery stuck in a groove.

“Damage” is the only track I would consider to be out of place on the record. It’s an interesting and unique track, but seems to be more fit for a Death Grips instrumental than in the thick of an Andy Stott LP.

“Missing” is also an entirely unique track to the album, however unlike “Damaged” it still feels like it fits the narrative of “Faith in Strangers.” The hollow, distant bass tone, eerie lo-fi synthesizer melody, textural soundscape and bleeps that sound straight out of a modular synth kit are all reminiscent of the experimental 80’s post-punk scene. If it wasn’t for Skidmore’s trademark vocals, it could almost be mistaken for a Bauhaus or Virgin Prunes track.

“Faith in Strangers” ends on a nearly uplifting and bright note. While still haunting, it’s more on the gorgeous side of haunting rather than dark. It’s like being visited by the friendly ghost of techno retro-futurism.

The moments of reprieve provided by Skidmore’s spectral vocals are necessary with the unrelenting heaviness of the main body of the songs on “Faith in Strangers”. The contrast between these moments are a main element of what makes Stott’s work really incredible. One moment it feels as though you are being sucked into a black hole, the next being pulled back into the light.

I love that Stott is taking risks with his newest releases. Too often, electronic musicians put themselves within the box of a genre, specific BPM, or a certain style of production, and they never leave that comfort zone. Stott has destroyed the comfort zone, spanning  multiple genres within his last two releases as well as finding a very unique style that is all his own, all while pulling everything together into a mostly cohesive album.

After being pulled back and forth between light and dark, positive and negative, abrasive and beautiful, I felt exhausted, a good kind of exhausted experienced after a challenging work of art. My only complaint is that there is never enough Stott to consume. I’m left wishing for more of this sound, with no other artist that I am aware of to grant me my wish.

For fans of: Underground dance music, the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

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