Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jon Hopkins: Insides

     I'm going to have to start off with a complaint, I'm afraid. Jacob, your requests are causing an unbalance within the blog. Every album you've suggested has been brilliant, and this one is no different! I'm actually rather surprised about Jon Hopkins, in terms of what he's been up to. He's made quite an impression on Brian Eno, an artist I appreciate a lot, and was even asked to co-produce the Coldplay album 'Viva La Vida'. 'Insides' is his third full-length album and first with Domino Records, released in the May of 2009. Therefore, it will be, and has been for me, the first record many will hear from him. As such, this is an almost perfect commercial debut, but there are a few shallow gashes here and there that lower it's long-term value. It's certainly a varied album, but these relatively constant changes in style reveal Hopkins' weakness. He is a competent performer in all of these contrasting feels, but rarely comes across as a master of any. Most of the sounds have been done better before, but having said that, the production and craftsmanship throughout covers the problem more often than not.
      The record opens with 'The Wider Sun', a track you can hear below on our snazzy new flash player! Hopkins merges the classical and the electronic here, with sounds used amazingly to create the mournful image of a Scottish tribe. The bagpipe-like instruments are tinged with a serene hum, lamenting a loss and yet somehow recognising that life ultimately goes on. 'Vessel' is, like I said before, a different style. It is still very quiet at the start, making for a good transition from the previous track to this, but as it progresses we discover a faster beat, highlighted in sonic glitches and the air of an other-worldly apocalypse. The ending of this track hits you like a ton of bricks. It's extreme thuds and buzzes get your pulse quickening as you run from a mechanical giant, filming the end of the world on your shaky handheld camera. For me though, the calm emulated on the first track is outstanding, hence it's appearance as the blog's first embedded mp3. Enjoy!
     'Insides' is instantly colder though, with it's whispers, glitches and subtle undertones obscured by sound. A chilling nightmare engulfs the track within the haunting melody. It makes no attempts to hide itself however, and after a while the noise erupts, unafraid and frightening. As I listen through for the third time as I write, I realise how wrong my initial complaint was. This guy, although perhaps not the best at certain styles, plays to his strengths, creating a soundtrack, epic in it's orchestration and refinement. You are always discovering new things here, be it the subtle effects or the stunning atmospheres. I have found this album gripping, saddening and thrilling, and these emotions, though not provoked in the the best way I've seen, are executed with a passion I greatly admire.
     Running through most of the remaining tracks relatively quickly then, 'Wire' is one of the catchier songs, with a pretty inspiring climax half-way through that makes your head bob along with your infectious grin. 'Colour Eye' however, is a ghost story, crying down the empty train line, eyes frantic as they fill up with tears. The electronic noise here, though experimental, works well in creating a paranormal soundscape that I adore. Made all the better by the slower mid-section and rainy finish, this leads into 'Light Through The Veins', which in my opinion is one of the weaker tracks. It feels very, 'commercially viable', during the first half, in that the melody and backing beat feel very poppy, without the originality seen elsewhere on the record. 'Small Memory' is heavily classical, but this quieter, slower vision makes for teary-eyed time alone. It's serenity is beautiful, despite it's rather underwhelming conclusion. The closing track is similar in feel, but the ending (thirty seconds of silence) allows you to sit and contemplate what you've heard. 'Insides', in the end, while perhaps not the best album out there, makes an admirable lunge for the crown. Now one of my favourite electronic efforts, this was a hidden gem for me, and is one that I eagerly encourage you to investigate for yourselves.

'The Wider Sun'