Sunday, July 12, 2009
Insides - Jon Hopkins
SCQ Rating: 73%
Jon Hopkins may be the perennial outsider. A piano composer who obsesses about electronica, an indie artist who rose to notoriety co-producing Coldplay, Hopkins’ contradictory nature is at once attention-grabbing and marginalizing. Nestled between these ominous instrumental tracks, after all, is the original seed that spawned ‘Life in Technicolour’ off Viva La Vida, making Hopkins an artist millions of people aren’t aware they’ve heard. It’s this push and pull that encapsulates Insides, Hopkin’s third album, which alternates between glitchy electronica and dewy sweet soundscapes with varied success.
Sometimes combining these styles, other times restraining them, Insides features no short supply of stable concoctions which commonly mix piano compositions with punctuated, mid 90s-era beats. Prime examples are found in the beautifully uncertain ‘Vessel’, which flaunts elegant arpeggios and beat-programming beneath an eerie fog of ambience, as well as the playful ‘Wire’, which coolly bounces like a vintage Ulrich Schnauss track. In fact, Hopkins shares more than a few production tricks with label-mate Schnauss, from their modern incorporation of 90s breakbeats to their focus on soothing beds of synth. Yet Insides bares a decidedly glitchier fingerprint, preferring hyperactive laptop rhythms to layered keys, and the results are often jarring. The title track buoys on its sinister tones and Unsolved Mysteries-reminiscent melody but is suffocated by cluttered lazer-effects while ‘Colour Eye’ attempts to highlight both the piano-led solace and heavy beats equally, incidentally revealing which end Hopkins excels at.
Despite his programming efforts, Hopkins achieves best with melody, ensuring his greatest work contains only a studied background in electronica. With the collective heave of violins in ‘A Wider Sun’ through the solo piano of ‘Small Memory’, Hopkins has mastered how to pull heartstrings with a minimum of laptop-fuss, evoking the sepia-stained cinematics of Sigur Ros. It’s the simplicity of a track like ‘A Drifting Up’ – combining casual beats with a tinkered piano, amid rising strings – that deems his more convoluted IDM-inspired tracks so unnecessary. Less is more… and the fact that his beats are shoved so prominently in the mix - despite being rather average - makes noise out of potential beauty.
Insides, for all its loveliness, won’t affect Hopkin’s outsider status; the man is an instrumental composer dabbling in laptop-wars, not an electronic artist at heart. This distinction is crucial, as Hopkins’ pretty fusions of ambience and piano will have far more success in mainstream endeavors (like feature films, advertising) than underground shows. Unlike contemporaries in the electronic genre, Insides lacks a conflicted dimension, offering sleek soundtracks to daily life instead of the restlessly inaccessible beat-work that thrives off anonymity. What much of Hopkins’ latest may lack in robustness, however, is made up for in hypnotic details, moments that will have you listening in for months to come.