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Andy Stott harmonizes ‘Too Many Voices’

| Monday, April 25, 2016

AndyStott_WebEric Richelsen | The Observer

I have always found it ironic that one of the most stigmatized genres of music has in fact been the locus of some of the greatest innovation heard under the electronic umbrella, particularly in the past decade. The equation of techno with the debauchery of rave culture probably has its roots in the early 1990s, when hedonist producers shaped the subgenre into a massively popular phenomenon whose most recent equivalent might just be the rapid flourishing of EDM — “electronic dance music” à la Calvin Harris and Avicii — in the very early 2010s. Like EDM, with which it is often confused, techno is frequently dismissed as redundant and creatively bankrupt, the delight solely of a nose-wrinkling particular group of people. But unlike EDM, which is on a slow but sure decline for these very reasons, techno has long since transcended the level of nightclub decadence and become instead the domain of some of the most creative voices in electronic production today.

Artists like Wolfgang Voigt and Ricardo Villalobos — and Actress and Nicolas Jaar more recently — have significantly shaped the form that techno has taken today. But Andy Stott is perhaps the best example of a current producer mining the genre for its best qualities. By exploiting the penchant of his audience for devilishly high volumes and distorting the pulsing beat and bass of the music into a gruelingly thick aural aesthetic that all the while still retains the integrity of the genre, Stott has not only set himself apart from his contemporaries but has wholly reimagined what techno can achieve. In this way, Stott is to techno today what The Avalanches was to house in the late 1990s and Burial was to dubstep in the mid-2000s.

This is especially true since his critical breakthrough in 2011 with the paired EPs “Passed Me By” and “We Stay Together,” on which he test-runs the silvery sleek yet monolithically loud sounds he would perfect on “Luxury Problems,” the 2012 follow-up LP on which he gives life to a dusky neo-noir landscape that is both impersonal and sensual in a delightfully jarring symbiosis. If a sequel in the same spirit would have been welcome by any, Stott nonetheless determined to modify his aesthetic yet again, this time opting for a slicker sound on the diamond-cut “Faith in Strangers” in 2014. The decision was a testament to the producer’s genuine exploratory drive, and the notion is only the more supported on Stott’s latest LP, “Too Many Voices.”

In many ways, the aesthetic of “Too Many Voices” is not entirely novel. Stott never ceases to delight in impossibly resonant bass and in the affecting qualities of disembodied vocalization; The result is as emotionally dichromatic as his previous works. But while the album’s sound palette will sound familiar, Stott’s approach is unlike anything of his that we have previously heard.

Inspired by what he terms “synthetic, parallel world” sounds, Stott’s latest work echoes with aggressive elasticity, like the flexing of ruthless bionic arms. Tracks that would be otherwise smooth and lively here are infused with an intoxicated fourth-world quality that is very compelling, if not also a bit dizzying. On “New Romantic,” an arousing house ballad is warped by colossal snares that audibly disintegrate in their loudness, while drowsy accents on “First Night” float about a gloomy tableaux as a kick bass zips back and forth over the aural plane. Meanwhile, lead single “Butterflies” encapsulates the album’s oblique sound in a bouncy track that is Stott’s most soulful to date, while the brusque percussive artillery of “Selfish” features Stott’s most hostile production yet in what feels like a supercharged version of “Up the Box” from “Luxury Problems.”

Stott’s fresh experimentation with tempo is worth noting also, as it particularly accentuates the surreal plastic aesthetic of “Too Many Voices.” On “Waiting for You” and album highlight “Forgotten,” Stott capriciously injects speed into his sound; the disorienting effect evokes the tendencies of vanguard musical styles like vaporwave. If intentional, Stott’s latest work would acquire compelling conceptual undertones to recall the rave-as-meditation of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project and the musical deconstructionism of vaporwave itself.

And I do believe that it is intentional, because the way in which Stott pushes the techno envelope on “Too Many Voices” — drawing from the precedent of previous innovators in crafting an innovative product of his own — is indicative of an artist with an ulterior motive beyond the dance floor. On Andy Stott’s latest, you will hear much more than the mere “now” of techno; you will encounter a window looking to what is yet to come.

Artist: Andy Stott
Album: “Too Many Voices”
Label: Modern Love
Favorite Track: “New Romantic, Forgotten”
If you like: Actress, Burial, Ricardo Villalobos

4.5/5 shamrocks

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