- Ever since We Stay Together, when his considered dub techno gave way to a more abstract and grinding sound, listening to Andy Stott has been a bit like picking a scab or poking a bruise: it hurts so good. His trio of Modern Love releases in 2011 and 2012, which culminated in the universally lauded Luxury Problems, assaulted the senses like little else that's even tangentially related to the dance floor. As good as it was, though, the aesthetic felt a bit like house music passed through a filter—if you could calculate the precise coefficients, you could theoretically reverse the effects of Stott's brutal processing and arrive back at relatively straightforward 4/4.
The music on Faith In Strangers, however, is too far gone for such an antidote. Whatever malady infiltrated his sound around the turn of the decade has now completely reordered its DNA, resulting in the most fully formed and wholly unique record in his discography. It's like we're listening to an entirely new organism formed from the sludge that slipped off his earlier tracks. That's evident within the album's first moments—it opens with spacious silence, then a growl, then a sequence of bone-chilling horn blasts. They lead to "Violence," a track cut from the same cloth as Luxury Problems but woven into a remarkably different form. Alison Skidmore, Stott's go-to vocalist (and former piano teacher), returns here, but rather than provide ethereal adornment to hellish house music, she fronts a full-fledged song, albeit one played with instruments thrashed beyond all recognition.
Faith In Strangers weaves between moments of compositional clarity and spooky ambience: clarion calls, reverb tails and breathy, pregnant silences. Stott pauses in murky interludes as he lurches between icy electro swells—those telltale stutters are the album's closest link to the dance floor. But while Faith In Strangers may be body music (in the broadest sense), it invariably favors dripping, pulpy atmosphere over the vestigial pulse of Stott's earlier work. "How It Was" exemplifies this approach: though a small army of drums gallops beneath the surface, we only hear the rattling of the metal wall they seem to be running into. Subdued pads carry the melody, and while they're quieter than the stomping rhythms, they have the power to dominate the mix, smothering us with sweetness.
Even at its darkest and furthest out, Faith In Strangers is as warm and engaging as albums that make standard inroads to listeners' hearts. The title cut matches post-punk electric bass with unflashy Rhodes chords and a crisply vintage drum machine—it's an incongruously clean landing for a record full of dissonance and noise. Stott throws us one last curveball with "Missing," a blown-out hymn of mile-wide bass, scratchy strings and a vocal line that could have been recorded inside Skidmore's skull. With one last distorted twinkle, the album trails off, leaving you battered and utterly certain you've heard some of the year's most distinctive electronic music.
01. Time Away
03. On Oath
04. Science & Industry
05. No Surrender
06. How It Was
08. Faith In Strangers