Andy Stott: Faith In Strangers
Manchester producer Andy Stott's built up a considerable reputation over the years as a solo artist and member of Millie and Andrea, in which he partners with Miles ‘MLZ' Whittaker. Like his previous solo album, Luxury Problems, Stott's third solo outing, Faith In Strangers, features several vocal contributions from his former piano teacher Alison Skidmore. The fifty-four-minute release is anything but a recycling of past glories, however; instead, it's a bold and at times stunning nine-track set that does nothing but enhance his current stature. While not all of it is at the same high level, some of the material is enthralling, at times breathtakingly so.
“Time Away,” which includes euphonium playing by Kim Holly Thorpe, opens the album on a low-key and frankly underwhelming note. While the piece is a decently executed and engaging enough exercise in ambient minimalism, it doesn't contribute anything terribly novel to the genre and comes across as if Stott's padding water, biding his time before digging into something more formidable. But repeated exposure to the album suggests that Stott's decision to begin the album with a subdued setting is part of a calculated strategy that sees the recording building in energy and intensity as it progresses.
A more powerful track by comparison, the aptly titled “Violence” more implies threat than overtly declares it, with Skidmore draping her breathy, damaged expressions across a curdling trap pulse and distorted bass snarl, the material's ominous impact bolstered by the intermittent punctuation of a creepy motif. Her ghostly, multi-layered whispers lend “On Oath” an introspective and haunting character that's offset by the heavy clank of Stott's intricate groovesmithing. The metallic dimension of that cut carries over into “Science & Industry,” a large focus of which is Stott's motorik beatwork. Still, while all such pieces are perfectly credible productions, they don't constitute anything genre-bending or represent a radical advance on existing forms.
Patience is necessary, however, as such moments do occur during the album's second half. “No Surrender” first catches one's attention with searing organ flourishes before a clattering groove takes charge, its bulbous bass throb a fitting partner to its grime-smothered snares and kick drums. Even better is “How It Was,” which mesmerizes in the way it blends a swirling warehouse-styled pulse with melancholic hints of melody and smears of Skidmore's breathless gasps. Stott rolls out more heavy artillery for “Damage,” a skittering beat workout spiked by a hot-wired bass motif that occasionally cuts out to allow some fractured, Aphex-styled beatwork to take over. Rather than plunge deeper, Faith In Strangers resurfaces for the melodic title track, a warm vocal piece that comes as close to electronic pop as one imagines Stott might ever get. With echoes of “How It Was” and “Damage” reverberating within one's brain, one comes away from Faith In Strangers reminded of why Stott's achieved the reputation he has.