Album Review: Jon Hopkins – Immunity

[Domino; 2013]

As a music fan, there are few feelings that do more to validate wading through all of the muck than a genuine breakthrough. Wimbledon export Jon Hopkins’ career has been a series of baby steps, beginning with his debut Opalescent in 2001. From there he worked his way up, releasing follow-ups, collaborating with the likes of Coldplay and Brian Eno, and collaborating with King Creosote on the Mercury-nominated Diamond Mine in 2011. It’s a solid resume, akin to a wonderful character actor who’s never quite managed to elbow their way into limelight. With his fourth individual effort, Immunity, Hopkins is hell-bent on making his own luck.

And has he ever; Immunity is brilliant. It’s both a culmination of Hopkins’ earlier achievements and a progression beyond them. It can be fragile, kinetic or abrasive; it can make you want to dance or sing along with ad-libbed words, or just awe you with its beauty. Yet it exists in a realm that few other techno records occupy. It’s an impeccably organized listening experience that deserves and demands to be listened to in its entirety, thanks to terrific pacing, a broad sonic palette, and a confident command of rhythm.

The album’s arc is a reward in itself, each track both self-serving and contributing to the bigger picture, starting with the nervous glitch of “We Disappear.” By around the three-minute mark you get the feeling that Hopkins is just showing off, with an uncountable number of layers slithering and stutter-stepping over each other. From there, Hopkins plays roulette, transitioning into a deep house groove on the juggernaut “Open Eye Signal,” then playing up the contrast between grace and snarl on “Breathe This Air,” meshing a diaphanous piano part with a bubbling bassline.

Immunity’s first half carefully, continuously turns the screws a little tighter before going fully mechanical on “Collider.” Each piece is forged from experience, and the overall sweep is made all the more effective by Hopkins’ command of rhythm. He builds his beats out of everyday noises, from distant trains, to flipping pages in a book, to closing doors; everything becomes a part of Immunity’s intricate engine. It’s all fair game.

There are a few more breathers on Immunity’s second half, starting with “Abandon Window,” the delicacy of which is quickly thrown out for the hostile twitching of “Form By Firelight.” The twelve-minute centerpiece “Sun Harmonics” is an amalgam of what came before it, danceable but at arm’s length, smooth but with fissures under the surface. The closing title track brings to mind Four Tet’s “Slow Jam,” laying gorgeous pianos over what sounds like ambient noise from an office. It’s the album’s crowning moment, an emotionally saturated piece made all the more resonant by King Creostle’s shimmering vocals. All in all, Hopkins’ roadmap is splendidly plotted, taking the right amount of time to deliver you to your destination and showing you the detours you didn’t even know you wanted to see.