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Andy Stott - Luxury Problems

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Artist: Andy Stott

Album: Luxury Problems

Label: Modern Love

Review date: Oct. 29, 2012

I’m as thankful as anyone that the Modern Love record label spearheaded consignment of the brash, painfully fleeting witch-house fad to the Recycle Bin of history. Listening to Demdike Stare’s magnificent, mature Triptych is as rewarding now as it was when it first wiped out the memory of Salem in late 2010 … but the new noir burbling up from Old Britannia has been reinforced so often of late that it’s begun to feel laborious, disingenuous.

One of the essential ingredients of this new darkness was that the key players were saying (and questioning) more with less — the long history of magic and hauntology, horror movies and their scores, colonialism and cratedigging African rarities, the early industrial ethos, house music, and hell, the very idea of sound itself could be challenged, interrogated, and exalted in the artwork and space of a Raime LP or whatever absurdly limited edition cassette Vatican Shadow was releasing that week. But with the added attention came a gradual debunking of the mystique — eloquence and arrogance intertwined in a nauseating RA interview or 12” after 12” of those old familiar sounds by newcomers without a pedigree belaboring the point that this stuff was “deep” or “difficult” or, worst, “Important” without a reason why. The conversation, always worth furthering, eventually felt as exhausting and hollow as the artists that were beginning to emerge.

Andy Stott’s music since last year’s Passed Me By has existed at a curiously contentious place in this continuum. The Mancunian’s origin story with Modern Love involved former labelmate Claro Intelecto and a chance exchange of CD-Rs, but Passed Me By has felt like a real Malevich moment, a spark of genius that appears as happenstance from the outside: There is Stott’s conventional deep house before, and there is his famously “knackered house” after.

The catchphrase he christened embraces all of the most questionable practices of this evolution while simultaneously selling it better than the rest – bass so pointlessly low even a half-decent system has trouble picking up on it (but formidable if you can find one); lorries full of reverb and delay (unparalleled atmosphere); lurching BPMs (connecting house to ambient, industrial, and DJ Screw in a distorted but relatable way); flippant usage of African tribesmen in the artwork (but an aesthetic cribbed from old National Geographics and curated by Modern Love rather than Stott himself). Passed Me By and We Stay Together were tough listens, but Stott also seemed to understand restraint: By splitting the releases up into mini-LPs, we left knackered but wanting.

Luxury Problems continues the trajectory with a few added inspirations: He’s now using vocals wholesale rather than just vocal samples. It was a risk bringing in the piano teacher from his youth, Alison Skidmore, but the pairing works spectacularly. This is the most arresting music of Stott’s career in large part because it is his most approachable.

“Touch,” begs the vocal snippet that forms the groundwork for opener “Numb.” A deep thump and shake join in eventually, but the vocals give it air to breathe. Stott’s corroded techno last year was engrossing to the point of suffocation, which felt like a natural evolution from Demdike’s material if not his own; here, he’s maintaining the same form musically, but it’s easier to digest because of Skidmore. Further proof comes with her operatic approach to “Lost and Found,” a haunting complement to the cold machinations of the beat, an unsettling levity rare to hear without sounding contrived.

Something else you notice with Luxury Problems is that Stott has branched out slightly from his signature damaged dub-techno to incorporate industrial and, most obviously, drum n’ bass on “Up the Box.” This song doesn’t immediately sound like Stott’s work, but in context it provides a different sound from the preceding six songs, all more or less identifiable only as Andy Stott. It also sets up another surprise with “Leaving,” a concluding track that parts ways with Skidmore’s most straightforward, angelic performance and Stott’s most restrained work. Pretty brilliant parting shot.

The counterargument to Luxury Problems is that this is hollow techno fluff disguised in a menacing wolf’s outfit, as close to witch-house trash as Pictureplane. Even if it is just an affect, Stott likes it and, most importantly, has found a way to make it work for him — there’s nothing laborious or disingenuous about this album. For post-apocalyptic strains of electronic music, there’s no one better at the moment than Andy Stott. Luxury Problems makes for one hell of a calling card.

By Patrick Masterson

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