There are few artists that could pull off a thematic companion to their last major album without it feeling regressive to their arc as an artist. Jon Hopkins’ Asleep Versions, the EP length reimagining of last year’s twitchy, expansive Immunity, isn’t the bold stylistic step that one would expect after an album that so expertly magnified and unfurled Hopkins’ sound. Pitching up the otherworldly qualities of the music and deemphasizing the computerized sounds, Asleep Versions is true to its name, the twilight counterpoint to Immunity’s sunny morning. But even if it’s destined to be a footnote in Hopkins’ prolific discography and growth as an artist, it’s a testament to Hopkins’ ability to create classically beautiful compositions.
Described in press releases as an attempt to create “decelerated, dreamlike re-imaginings” of Immunity tracks, the album certainly does feel contemplative and drawn-out, even at half the length of Immunity. Sonically though, the best way to describe Asleep Versions may be as the unplugged rendering of Hopkins’ Immunity-era sound. Eschewing the more futuristic, askew twinkles of that album for a lighter, more lucid analog sound, the music has unusually never felt less dreamy.
The EP opens with a re-imagined version of “Immunity.” Hopkins restructures the song, placating the glitching field recordings of the original, and realigning King Creosote’s aching vocal into a centerpiece position.
The track is pretty, but without the interplay of the wounded loop and the piano, the track feels like second-rate Sigur Ros, elevated by Hopkins’ understanding of production.
For most people, Hopkins was first heard in the new age sparkle of Insides’ “Light Through the Veins” that bookended Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Plaintive but never conservative in his ambitions, Hopkins’ early recordings announced an artist who lived in the margins between classical and electronic music to create his own form of digital pastoral music.
When describing Hopkins’ music, he starts to sound like the lion’s share of electronic and classical musicians out there. There’s the classicist accents of Nils Frahm, the intimate warmth of Olafur Arnalds, the suspended compositions of Max Richter and so on, but Hopkins’ skills lie in his meticulous modulation. At any given time, his musical textures can communicate the lightness of a snowflake or the fury of a blizzard.
“Form By Firelight” is a prime example of this intimacy, transforming the lattices of squelching synths of the original into a siren song. Raphaelle Standell, who leads Braids and Blue Hawaii, is a phantom mewling against the menace of the flickering keyboards and aqueous strings.
“Breathe This Air” momentarily returns the EP to a place of sonic lucidity with ringing piano until it dissipates halfway into pixie dust synths and a haunting vocal loop.
It approaches that liminal feeling between sleeping and consciousness, but it feels more like an interlude than a track on an EP that barely reaches a half hour.
“Open Eye Signal” was kind of an outlier on Immunity; a juiced-up techno rumbler that was closer to Chemical Brothers’ pyrotechnic rave-ups than the intimate, anxiety-ridden suites that made up the rest of the album. Asleep Versions impressively channels some of the same mood even as it sounds completely different. Moored along by an inward rumble, the song sounds like one long yawn as the drone builds into an angelic peak before plateauing and dropping to an isolated whisper.
Asleep Versions is a fine entry in Hopkins’ musical career, but it feels like a period, whereas Immunity felt like an ellipsis. On Immunity, Hopkins wasn’t boxed in by his past sonic palettes, he was reinvigorated; he shaped them to create a sound that felt less like the house music at a stuffy concert hall and more like a living, breathing ecosystem. Asleep Versions is more accomplished and complete work than many of Hopkins’ contemporaries’ full albums, but he’s still trying to get back to the forest from the trees.
Jon Hopkins – Asleep Versions tracklist:
- “Immunity (with King Creosote)”
- “Form By Firelight (with Raphaelle Standell)”
- “Breathe This Air (Asleep Version)”
- “Open Eye Signal (Asleep Version)”