“Faith in Strangers”: Atypical Techno

Courtesy of Modern Love
Courtesy of Modern Love

Manchester producer and electronic artist Andy Stott has released his anticipated fourth album, “Faith in Strangers,” which features the careful mastering and atmospheric style indicative of his work. Light and airy with a dark, lurid undercurrent, his album marks a step forward for the artist that will please fans and entice newcomers.

The album begins slowly and stays at its thoughtful pace for the first half, with synth overtures and none of the drums and bass associated with modern house and dub music. The album shows off its experimental nature in the opening tracks, with Stott’s piano teacher, Alison Skidmore, providing hauntingly abstract vocals that are heavily filtered, with only small syllables breaking through the surrounding fog. The occasional drum parts and heavily synthesized bass pop in and out of the opening tracks, sometimes discernible for a few measures, but usually rumbling like a Lovecraftian monster below the airy surface.

It’s hard to classify the opening half of the album as “music” at all, as its esoteric style and strange electronic ambience make it feel more like an audio-based modern art piece designed for contemplation rather than musical entertainment. While it starts at an extremely slow boil, akin to heating a Jacuzzi with a cigarette lighter, there is noticeable tension and unnerving aura in the air a few tracks in. All of the tracks on the album feature an odd arrangement of instruments, such as organs and theremins, which pop in and out of the songs seemingly at random. There are also harsh metallic clangs and odd mechanical hums that fade in and out of the songs. The odd schizophrenic mishmash of sounds and the jarring pacing creates audible hallucinations much like the ones you might experience if you lose your mind in a dark forest.

Things reach a crescendo during the middle track, “No Surrender,” as “crunchy” tribal beats blend with the hum and whine of the synths. The tracks start to have a much quicker pace for the second half as a whole, dropping the ethereal, cosmic feel of the first half for a much more structured experience. The sharp hooks and snaps punctuate each track with rough energy, giving the second half of the album an engaging, yet unnerving, quality.

The hardest aspect of describing “Faith in Strangers” is its refusal to adhere to any specific genre or label. It transcends modern techno and house music with its minimalist, experimental vibe, and many listeners who are unfamiliar with Stott’s work may have difficulty finding any benchmark to compare it to. Skidmore’s vocals may seem reminiscent to fans of Crystal Castles, while its metallic rhythms reminded me of Aphex Twin. However, the slow, haunting pace of the album sets it apart from electronic music on the market today. People who buy this album expecting something in the traditional realm of techno will be disappointed, as it has none of the dance-club qualities seen in many dub or techno artists popular today. This album asks for a lot of investment on the part of the listener, with careful attention needed to notice any of the intricacies woven throughout the songs.

The only thing I can definitively say about “Faith in Strangers” is that it is hard to define. While it does feature a rich array of sounds, its abnormal style and discordant instrumentation may leave a poor first impression. If you are a person who enjoys music as the spice to brighten up your everyday life or tries to find poetry within lyrics, this album will likely leave you wanting. I was only able to notice the depth and complexity of the album on my second listen, when I chose to listen through my noise-cancelling headphones instead of my stereo. Still, this album is more of a personal art project instead of music, and I wasn’t won over, despite the attention to detail and obvious care that Stott put into each track. If you are in the mood for something different, the album is worth looking into. However, you may be turned off by its enigmatic style.

Rating: 3 stars

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