Album Review: Jon Hopkins – Singularity (Domino)

Jon Hopkins - Singularity review

Scaling the highs and lows of human emotion

You’d not guess from this album that Jon Hopkins trained to be a classical pianist and had the opportunity to follow a career in a field that seems diametrically opposed to the one he has been so successful in. That essentially is electronic music and, on this album at least, the glitchier, noisier and more explorative end of the genre’s broad spectrum. Hopkins got to this point via a number of experiences including collaborating with ambient guru Brian Eno, Coldplay and film score specialist David Holmes. He went on to produce scores for The Lovely Bones and Monsters before signing to Domino and producing two successful albums, the last of which being 2013’s Immunity which was nominated for a Mercury prize. Singularity has therefore been a long time coming, in fact Hopkins doesn’t appear to have remixed or produced anything in the last three years, but he has toured and DJ’d extensively while working on this album. Even musicians have rent to pay.

Singularity opens with the title track, a piece that rumbles and crackles like electricity pylons and distant thunder, creating a scary high tension vision of arcing electrons and fizzing plasma where the darkness is only offset by the beat that rolls in. It’s a pulsating crunchy beat in an atmosphere that suggests that only in noise can we find truth, and it’s a hypnotic truth that could easily become overwhelming on a big system. The bass is truly monstrous in its depth and power, delivering the sort of seismic energy that tells you just how low your sound system can go. The track builds to a crescendo before quickly spluttering out like a dying sun.

Pop music it ain’t.

The heavily mashed beats continue through the next two tracks but they are accompanied by synth backdrops that suggest a calm in the distance, there is even a female vocal albeit in choral style, but it brings a human side to the sizzling distortions. Everything Connected is a 10 minute plus epic that’s broken up into what could be described as movements, the second part sees the sound ascend and the beats fall away so that synths can soar in a haze of noise before a techno beat comes in over string section soundalike backing. It relaxes a little toward the end, the noise is reined in and you’re left with the minimal ambiance of beats in space that seem to die quietly away before you realise that there’s an ominous rumbling, a hint that that dark forces are lying in wait.

The themes get slowly more relaxed over the succeeding tracks, COSM has shiny droplets of sound in a big echoey reverberant field with fragmented beats giving you no clue that a deep bass pulse is on its way. Echo Dissolve is a stand out thanks to Hopkins’ downtempo piano melody that has something of the Nils Frahm about its background noises, but this too ends with a threatening bass line prior to a return to bombast in Luminous Beings. Yet this proves short lived and the track progresses through its near 12 minutes in several artfully joined up elements to a gentle piano outro. When Recovery finishes the album you are left in a serene state of meditative calm bathing in the distant sonar bleep that reflects the cover art perfectly.

Not an album to be judged on its early tracks alone, Singularity scales the highs and lows of human emotion, encompassing gritty reality and sublime escape in its broad scope.

– Jason Kennedy

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