ALBUM REVIEW: Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Singularity is ‘intended to be listened to in one sitting, as a complete body of work’. Unfortunately, upon my first listen I didn’t have a solid hour spare to do this, and I was too impatient to wait until I did. I have since been able to listen to the album both in bits and in its singular body as intended. These experiences have proven fruitful, for the new release is undoubtedly powerful. As a result, I offer that it’s well worth a devoted listen both in fragments through pretty-much broken earphones, or embraced in its full body on state of the art speakers, as well as anywhere in between. Hopkins’ first release, Immunity, was an album that took its listeners journeying far out to meet his talent. Singularity shows them around.
This is a strangely diverse collection for what you’d imagine an album intended to be listened to in one sitting. If there’s one thing that I can say of Jon Hopkins is that his work is cinematic – typically involving adaptability for many environments a handful that I can imagine being the dusky countryside, the city night or timeless space. This is a result of the way that Hopkins wrangles some more organic sounds into his hard-hitting techno soundscapes. Upon first listen, one might not realise that the early tracks implement solid woodland drums and flutey influences. Though in a way these components are almost folk-like, they are given strength, revealed to possess a strict, innate structure and prove durable for all weathers. A combination certainly making for a versatile album to listen to. Full of dream-like soundscapes, Singularity involves the emotional journey of its talented producer, which he expanded on as something of a ‘psychedelic experience’. Of course then – in its entirety – the record involves a narrative of a hard buildup to deep exploration and eventual release. In this journey, there are naturally many sights but seemingly no stops.
The opener is eponymous to the album Singularity. The titular release is a pressing techno track – looping, developing and spiralling, with the barrelling tunnel of sound that you might have listened faithfully to on Hopkins’ last album. Eased into a near-uncomfortable level of depth, as soon as you are used to it a slow down occurs – around 4:14 – producing a distinct feeling of let-go and loss. However, this is picked back up in a new hard-hitting, reflexive industrial environment. Pushed around bouncing off the walls with a big techno drum being hit again abandoning you for an echoing void.
Not one to leave anyone in the cold, however, Hopkins picks the intensity back up and grants the listener their existence in a new, industrial context.
Towards the latter end of the album, ‘Luminous Beings’ begins with what sounds like train tracks. A mystery is created by its junction with a murmur of life, the distant hum of human activity. The buildup holds a pressure that gently allows you to prepare for more. I’d offer that this track in particular is reflective of the record – whilst ‘Singularity’ is containing (and by and large rather pressing), its industrial electronic elements are never too overbearing; Hopkins’ sound-manipulation encompasses a gentle guidance through the harder times.
Equally, Hopkins’ consistent use of solo, acoustic piano is never too melancholy and his lighter tracks send you adrift, adding a sense of echo and dissolve to the Singularity experience. What I like about Jon Hopkins’ music is that while it explores a number of avenues, it’s never ‘too’ anything.
For dedicated fans of Hopkins’ debut Immunity, there is some allusion to the tunnelling tones of the past. However, Singularity is far more optimistic and willing to jump out – it is at the same time willing & ready to calm down. In ‘Luminous Beings’, the coordinated crickets of the electronic world lightly shake from side to side. They obediently fade out, allowing the humble piano to return to centre stage playing out in the moonlight.
Jon Hopkins’ nurture of nature produces a serious body of controlled work, with playful and exceedingly wild undertones. This shines through in ‘Neon Pattern Drum’, six minutes gradually disjointing SIngularity‘s rainy beginnings granting access to really get into the swing of things. When the track kicks in, one can see that it is light and dancey in nature, but also somehow situated on a motorway with great purpose. Listening to ‘Neon Pattern Drum’ is like seeing flashing lights whilst you kick up sand in the desert.
Strangely familiar, and yet like nothing you’ve ever heard before, this album is really ideal for use as a cinematic score. Indeed this release is a solid score for the likes of Jon Hopkins, who using Ableton, seems able to draw upon his vast musical experience yet is free enough that he – with minimal risk – can test the musical waters however he so likes. Singularity is like being left isolated on a sort-of distant planet, only having been given the ability to float around. Here is a small world of strange and beautiful surroundings to learn from and take in.
The album starts and ends with the press of the same piano key. However, whilst the listener is put back where they started, they’ve come full circle with completely new attitudes, perspectives and outlooks.