- In "Cable-car, Dolomites," a 1987 landscape photo by Andreas Gursky, a thick mist covers a mountainside. Its sense of scale is hard to gauge until you notice, suspended in the shot's centre, a red cable car made minuscule by Gursky's lens. You might imagine approaching Jon Hopkins' latest album, Singularity, like someone in that car, in awe at the epic, humbling expanse below. In fact, the English artist's music has never sounded so open. His songs are often conceived as complex, three-dimensional structures: "I see them like a room, and [doing that] helps me not over-clutter the room," he once said. But Singularity's vast, airy ambience instead suggests a special kind of endless space. Take the video for "Emerald Rush," where we're led through a forest, a cave, and then, possibly, a black hole. Gesturing to the "psychedelic experience" that Hopkins says inspired the album, the clip illustrates the "everything connected" nature of the world seen through a mind-expanding substance.
"Singularity" gives us a taste of the album's full-sounding first half: drones, thunder, vocal harmonies and a bright synth pulse drive towards a gorge-wide breakdown, after which a lopsided garage swing takes everything home. Things go skyward from there. On another breakdown, during "Neon Pattern Drum" (Hopkins calls it his "take on trance"), the bells seem to float far above all else—the drums sound distant, the atmosphere increasingly thin. The next track, "Emerald Rush," resembles chord-driven techno, but its binaural vocal swirls and deeply layered kicks would outweigh anything in that class. Once the album cools down, Hopkins' piano, as on his last album, Immunity, comes to the fore. On "Feel First Life," the reverb on one note ripples into the next, creating an unbroken chain of yearning optimism. It resurfaces later on "Echo Dissolve" as resigned minor keys played by what sounds like the last person left on Earth. Whether loud or quiet, Singularity amplifies Hopkins' music to blockbuster proportions.
In 2015, Hopkins moved to Los Angeles and began practicing transcendental meditation. Some of its most famous devotees have compared it to "[having] a cellphone, and someone gives you the charger" (Jerry Seinfeld) and diving into an "ocean of pure consciousness" (David Lynch). The technique's founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, once suggested its effect was that of an arrow given flight. Hopkins seems to have done something similar on Singularity, because he holds nothing back. The dance tracks are massive. The emotions come full bore. The textures and depths of field are incredible. But even within Singularity's grand scope, the drama is occasionally overdone. A minute-long bit on "Everything Connected," where 4/4 kicks and stadium-friendly guitars converge in rail-straight lines, recalls a blandly euphoric shade of Coldplay, with whom Hopkins has worked in the past. Other passages, like the folky flute and strings on "Luminous Beings" and the sticky music-box tones on "C O S M," have the pungent sweetness of a true believer.
In a way, Singularity is the ultimate Jon Hopkins album. It's the one he's wanted to make for the last 15 years, but couldn't until now. The album's big ideas and granular techniques combine in ways that few other artists could imagine, let alone execute. Singularity is often extraordinary; when it's not, its flaws seem to stem from a pursuit of every impulse. The sky is no limit. Immunity, on the other hand, existed within walls, which were to its benefit. Hopkins imagined the album in part as an MDMA-fuelled night out and the comedown that might follow. After the tense highs of "Collider" came the dawn quiet of "Abandon Window." A comparable transition on Singularity, between "Everything Connected" and "Feel First Life," is made to feel seamless, less like a change in circumstance than an ascent onto some higher plane. Some will feel completely immersed in that; others might simply admire it from a distance.
02. Emerald Rush
03. Neon Pattern Drum
04. Everything Connected
05. Feel First Life
06. C O S M
07. Echo Dissolve
08. Luminous Beings