Fame has been both a blessing and a curse for electronic producer Jon Hopkins. After finding notoriety with his 2008 collaboration on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida and with Brian Eno, he is often these days reduced to the title of ‘Coldplay collaborator’ and can encounter knee-jerk derision for it across the blogosphere. Immunity, his fifth record, though, is a chance for him to finally step out of Chris Martin’s consciously uncoupled shadow and showcase his own talents for making genre-crossing, thought-provoking beats.
Immunity is a record of two halves. Tracks one to four are generally pretty hard-hitting techno, finding brief respite in piano interludes before once again delving into driving rhythms and punching synths. Tracks six to eight, however, are far more subdued in tone, only providing glimpses of the previous techno sounds and instead developing on the piano breaks of the first half.
Opener “We Disappear” sets the tone perfectly for Hopkins’ sound on Immunity. Beginning with an ambient building of synths and reverb echoes, soon a thumping bass starts to build until the chopped percussion fully emerges, and with it comes a catchy piano melody. One of the best things about Hopkins’ music is its surprising catchiness; most wouldn’t expect techno music or just pure electronic production to ever contain many visible hooks, but Hopkins manages to meld interesting production that resists looping ad infinitum with repetitively pleasing melodies. Next up is the colossal nine minute sonic odyssey that is “Open Eye Signal”. This has to be one of my favourite tracks of 2013 so far. Starting with a beautifully Eno-esque wailing piano, a rumbling drum beat slowly starts to creep in, ever so slightly building until it settles into a mid-level groove at the forefront of the track. Hopkins then goes on to masterfully layer percussion and bass-lines, allowing them to ebb and flow over each other, constantly competing for the listeners’ attention as the track breaks down and crescendoes. The real originality and insanity of the track comes in the last two minutes, though. Just as the deep house groove feels like it’s reached it’s highest point with some trashy synth work, suddenly Hopkins takes it even deeper, removing pretty much every single high frequency and leaving an aquatic bass to wobble over a shaking tambourine, creating an industrially filthy techno akin to Karenn. This is no Skrillex-style hyperbolic bass, it’s exactly how low frequencies should be used in electronic music.
Other ‘club’ tracks on the album, “Breathe This Air” and “Collider”, continue in the same vein, laying foundations with rumbling rhythm sections and finding solace in melancholy piano breaks – until pivotal track “Abandon Window”. The solitary chords of “Abandon Window” provide a welcome respite from the driving atmosphere of the record so far, making a brave statement that Hopkins is not only capable of putting out some serious neck-breakers but that he can also arrange and compose with skill. “Abandon Window” sets the tone for the rest of the record, with “Form By Firelight” and the wonderfully nuanced “Sun Harmonics” taking a noticeably subdued tone, centring around minimalistic piano melodies and soft, washed-out percussion. Finally we reach the beauty of 10 minute closer and title track “Immunity”. “Immunity” is probably closest to Hopkins’ earlier ambient works, such as “Light Through The Veins”, which was sampled by Coldplay. Over its run-time a soft vocal slowly builds over muted piano, creating a blissful end to an energetic and emotionally charged album.
With only 8 tracks, it’s difficult to see how Hopkins has managed to fit in such a variety of music and skill in Immunity, but he has managed it with great success, keeping the tracks a perfect length, providing the listener with a kaleidoscopic array of the potential of electronic music. It is also difficult to imagine where Hopkins can go from here, but if he continues producing records like Immunity then I am very excited to see what comes next.
[This piece was originally published on Cherry Coloured Funk on 21/07/13]