Underneath the crystal clear folk warbling of King Creosote was where I first encountered the handiwork of Jon Hopkins. Then there was the soundtrack to Monsters, 2010’s tense, low-budget sci-fi romance, where the veteran producer’s noises snapped quietly at the heels of the central lovers as they trekked through the alien-infested belt of northern Mexico.
The looming silhouette of Hopkins was definitely a collaborative one. It wasn’t until Immunity then, that Hopkins’ music first confronted me as isolated from any collaborative dimension (or should I say in the lead up to Immunity’s release, when Open Eye Signal’s angular, antagonistic synth line forced its way between my ears and summarily refused to vacate that space). The delay made it all the more astounding.
I began working backwards, increasingly staggered by his intense versatility and skill as a jack-of-all-trades from just a fleeting glance at his heaving CV. A writing credit for Life in Technicolor (the choice cut from the apex of Coldplay’s popularity sampling Light Through The Veins), a brief stint as Imogen Heap’s keyboard player, an association with – and therefore the acquisition of talent via osmosis from – Brian Eno and Leo Abrahams. Then there’s the mass of proto-Immunity noise called Insides: criminally overlooked by the majority of everyone everywhere in the world (ever).
Now when I took a step back to admire the landscape of Open Eye Signal – the unrelenting reconsideration of that synth line, squashing and squelching and pushing forward – I could see it all, the outcome of all those steadily snowballing encounters, experiences and experimentations: the sheer brilliance of it (and the sheer brilliance of him!).
Immunity deserves to win the Mercury Prize because it plays so fast and loose with the boundaries between electronic and non-electronic music, and still manages to make an effortlessly cohesive job of it. The sparse, wonky loops and lopsided beats that make up the most propulsive sections of the album (the likes of Collide’, Open Eye Signal, and the back end of Breathe This Air), are brought to life with sheer attention to detail, Hopkins wringing the tautology out of even the most repetitious tracks, whilst the conversely spacious second half seems to wallow more contently in its own ambient noise.
Much has been made of the supposed concept of the album – these eight songs plotting the arc of your average night out – but Hopkins’ real skill lies in the way he can make electronic music sound like it’s been hand-crafted. Whether it’s weaving the vocals of King Creosote into the gaps of the title track, drifting through Abandon Window’s abstract sound, or even cracking out the opening trial-by-fire that is the asymmetric beat of We Disappear, you feel as though these tracks really were created – like his Boiler Room might lead you to believe – improvised in a quiet room, with the company of three or so Kaoss Pads, rather than on a laptop.
As it is they’ve actually been deconstructed and subsequently rebuilt to maximise the spontaneity and ‘live’-ness of his performances. What this means is that not only has the man made one of the best electronic albums of the year, but that he’s made an album that ain’t just for denizens of Resident Advisor and Beatport. This is electronic music at its least alienating. No, you probably won’t love it on first listen, but Immunity can as easily weave its slow-burning magic on us self-professed indie boys as it can on EDM fanatics. It’s a crossover that’s far more ambitious than Settle’s ever could be because it doesn’t compromise on genre. It works in subtleties.
Immunity doesn’t sound like an album that was made in a year. And when you consider all the sorts of conceptual contributors that Hopkins cites – from hypnosis, to nature, to the affect music has on listeners – it seems ever more unlikely that an album coming from such a variety of fragmented directions could ever have been birthed in such a straightforward period of composition. But this is why Immunity is special – because it benefits from all the collaborative experience that Hopkins picked up as he wound his way towards it. The likes of Diamond Mine and the soundtrack to Monsters are shadowy presences. If you were to listen carefully enough, you could probably hear Viva La Vida too.