Jon Hopkins may be far from a household name but the odds that those unfamiliar with him have heard his work are fairly high. In the past decade he has proven to be a bit of a renaissance man, from contributing to Coldplay’s last two albums to composing the fantastic electronic score for 2010’s sleeper hit film Monsters.
He is perhaps best known for the Mercury Prize-nominated Diamond Mine, a collaborative album which pitched his soundscapes and found sounds against Scottish folk singer King Creosote’s plaintive ruminations. He has also worked with Brian Eno, David Holmes and David Lynch. His three previous solo albums almost seem lost amongst the wonderful clutter.
All that should change with Immunity – a fourth solo album which is almost certainly destined for wider attention and acclaim. It is that rarest of things in 2013, an album which demands to be listened to as a whole and indeed functions best as an hour-long work of art. As this suggests, the record has a unifying concept, aiming to reflect the rhythms and emotions of an archetypal night out.
It begins, then, with the sound of a door slamming shut and footsteps on a pavement. The track, We Disappear, is a tense opener which captures the nervous and expectant allure of an evening which looms before you; it zips past and builds magnificently before being subsumed by the more aggressive Open Eye Signal. Ethereal synths shimmer above furious and infectious beats – even if listening at home and sitting down, it’s almost impossible not to move to. In the final 90 seconds the synths drop out leaving only primal, jackhammer beats before a momentary reprieve at the beginning of Breathe This Air.
At this point we’re only 15 minutes in but already, breathlessly, deep inside Hopkins’ world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling opening to an album this year (and indeed in most other years) and it’s testament to a confident and gifted musician who is clearly at the peak of his powers. The 10-minute centrepiece Collider is almost ostentatious in its aggressive brilliance – it has more happening in its running time than some other artists fit into entire careers. Its relentless, pounding techno is giddy and disorienting; snippets of a heavily-processed voice float in and out of the mix and what sounds like a female breath disappears into the beats. It’s a Goliath of a track and is breath-taking in its success at creating a heady, 5-in-the-morning atmosphere.
Collider abruptly fizzles out and leaves the first period of silence on the album. Abandon Window is the calm after the storm, its ambient piano recalling Diamond Mine and indicating the comedown which inevitably follows impossible highs. This is made explicit in Sun Harmonics, the longest track on the album. The beats here are crisp and clean rather than brutal and the track’s unfolding dynamics do indeed suggest a sun rising and the transformative power it has on the world. Who hasn’t had one of those moments, heading home from a life-affirming evening and feeling intense joy as the sun reclaims the world from its darkness? Such overpowering emotion is encapsulated in the closing title track, which sees the return of King Creosote. A moving, persuasive piano line plays against what sounds almost like the noise of a train while King Creosote sings undecipherable sounds; it’s strangely yet incredibly moving.
Much has been made recently of Daft Punk‘s injection of ‘warmth’ and ‘emotion’ into dance music. Their disco-aping seems like children’s doodles compared to Hopkins’ masterpiece. Sure, the album’s conceit lends itself to easy critical acclaim, but there’s no denying that it works and does so magnificently. This is an intelligent and deeply human album and it would be no exaggeration to say that it’s already a modern classic. Jon Hopkins’ days of relative obscurity may be coming to an end.