(Domino Records, released Fri 4 May 2018)
There aren’t too many records you can spin that serve equally as well as the soundtrack to a wild night out or a mild night in, but Jon Hopkins’ new album Singularity is one of them. Whether you plan on hitting the books or hitting the Buckfast, the maestro of atmospheric electronica has got you covered – often even on the same track.
Like previous efforts, Singularity is all about shapeshifting and slipsliding between genres of electronica, with songs morphing their way through the runtime like an old Windows screensaver flitting inexorably from one corner of the screen to another. Things get off to an appetite-whetter of a start with the title track opener, as Hopkins builds the tension and the anticipation for 90 seconds with a single oscillating note cloaked in reverb, before a simple progression of keys takes up the mantle and keeps things ticking over. Then, two-thirds of the way in, Hopkins pops that rising momentum with a pin, before immediately building it afresh with a new rhythm and progression. And so ends track one, never reaching full climax but giving us enough flashes of flesh to prime the senses and get our tails up. We want more.
Track two, Emerald Rush, has a ponderous start, arpeggio-plucking of computer game sounds calming the nerves, before two minutes in the build begins all over again. This is the blueprint for the first half of the album: gentle ease-in, quick switch to upbeat tempo, pressure cooker on overdrive, deflate. It’s exhausting stuff, never more so than on its zenith, Everything Connected. If your pill hand wasn’t swinging at this point, it never will be. But while it’s perfect music for a mad acid house rave, it’s also oddly apt for the deep concentration of a study session. It’s a neat pigeonhole Hopkins has carved for himself and one which should appeal to both ends of the spectrum.
The second half of the album eases off the intensity, which is perhaps just as well for the old ticker. Feel First Life uses the ethereal beauty of choral prayer to transcend the planes, while C O S M recalls that lovely wee bit when the inebriation of the night before hasn’t fully worn off and the hangover’s still at a comfortable distance and you wallow in the luxuriance of existence. Echo Dissolve is a brief dabble in more sombre affairs, but not to worry, standout mood-sharpener Luminous Beings lifts us back up into all-is-good territory once again. It’s almost 12 minutes of bouncy, carefree fun, and it’s just the salve that’s needed after the rollercoaster Hopkins has taken us on. Closer Recovery is certainly the most understated piece on the album, subduing us into the bliss and nothingness of sleep. We’ve earned it.
Last time around, Hopkins earned himself a Mercury Prize nomination for breakthrough fourth album Immunity. Singularity takes up the same thread as that excellent effort and ratchets things up a notch or two, tapping into a transcendental form of electronica that’ll make even genre sceptics convert.