Andy Stott is a musical chameleon. He isn’t easy to pin down from album-to-album, let alone song-to-song. He’s played with Drum ‘n Bass’ manic breakbeats, microhouse’s exacting hypnosis, avant-garde’s unpredictability, and even unabashedly beautiful soundscapes—sometimes all in the same song—but if there’s one defining element, it’s an aching, monolithic backbeat. Stott’s songs don’t so much contain a bass line as an enveloping abyss as the foundation.
After 2012’s masterstroke, Luxury Problems, Stott could have easily coasted on variations of that album’s atmospheric dub, but Faith In Strangers thrives on unexpectedness and flipping the script between grotesque and beautiful, calming and dissonant. In the process, he’s made a stunning techno album admirable for both its technical innovation and its stark emotional resonance.
“Time Away” sets this dichotomy nicely with an unusually somber slow-burn soundscape that recalls the majestic instrumental work of Johann Johannson mixed with the narcotic haze of William Basinski. Playing with distance, the main horn figure glides as if it’s undulating back and forth through a reverberating canyon toward the listener.
“Violence” heads closer to the dancing floor with crater-inducing bass blasts, a squealing melody, and a disembodied siren sounding vaguely like Bjork, but there’s still a halo of unease that hangs over the track. “On Oath” similarly oscillates between severity and tranquility beginning as a bubbling drone before being overwhelmed by throbbing percussion and a juxtaposition of angelic voices and whirring machinery.
In Stott’s world, the natural and mechanical spheres don’t so much confront each other as co-exist.
Stott’s arrangement coalesces voices that sound like woodland nymphs and factory machinery merging into one cohesive whole. But Stott’s strength isn’t just building these hermetic worlds; Stott’s music takes genre architecture that already exists and scrambles it to his own will, twisting lulling drones into dancey bangers and completely changing the tone of familiar genres.
Stott’s music doesn’t need to be provocative. It’s capable of startling beauty even when he’s not subverting genre conventions. “Faith In Strangers” is one of the most gorgeous things Stott’s released—a rippled, melancholy techno song that serves as one of a few reunions with Luxury Problems‘ highlight, Alison Skidmore. Skidmore is still ghostly here, her wisp of a voice gliding through the heft of the music.
It’s far from make-out music, but it’s mechanically wounded in the same way that the best Aphex Twin songs strives for.
Like the best synthesists, Stott is voracious in his musical appetite without ever feeling like his influences are intruding on his own sound. “No Surrender” recalls Actress’ stuttering techno for nearly two minutes before field recordings and bone-snapping percussion lead in a pulverizing bass to destroy the foundation of the song. “How It Was” is similarly corrosive, like a post-apocalyptic version of Disclosure’s two-step. Likewise, “Damage” reimagines Trap as a futuristic soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with rusted snares, cymbals and blown-out atmospherics.
Stott isn’t unique to use bass as a weapon though. Groups like shamanic droners Sunn O))) have long built their sound on swallowing low-ends, but Stott’s brand of techno is so much more than sonic terrorism. This is fundamentally melodic techno, interested in the dance floor even when it sounds like the melody is sinking into quicksand.
In an interview with Tokyo outlet, Gadabout, Stott was asked to describe his music. He said, “If you can imagine an atmospheric soundtrack to a film, but at the same time it’s dance floor friendly.” It may be hard to imagine Stott playing in anywhere that wouldn’t cater to more adventurous strands of electronic music, but unlike some of his contemporaries, Stott isn’t just making this music as a monument—there’s a soul in this machine.
Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers tracklist
- “Time Away”
- “On Oath”
- “Science and Industry”
- “No Surrender”
- “How It Was”
- “Faith In Strangers”