No-one can do desolation quite like Andy Stott. He’s had plenty of experience - he’s from Salford - and on last year’s Passed Me By and We Stay Together EPs mixed dub techno and his own brand of 'knackered house' into treacherous, throbbing landscapes. If snow could fall on such landscapes Luxury Problems would be the result: a softer, brighter and more sultry record of mutilated house beats that features vocals, and a record whose concept of decay seems as fresh as the warehouse rave scene it’s lamenting.
The vocals on Luxury Problems come care of Stott’s former piano tutor Alison Skidmore, who acts like a lantern through his rumbling world. Her ethereal voice makes the album Stott’s most immediate and devourable to date: the way ‘Lost and Found’s synth dirge clears for a heavy, stabbing techno beat and Skidmore’s angelic singing is beautiful, and will call out to fans of Burial’s Untrue - it’s like ‘Archangel’ after an atom bomb, just the rattling and opera samples surviving. Lead track ‘Numb’ puts Skidmore even further in the spotlight, opening with a 143-second loop of her saying ”Touch…” that dissolves and overlaps until it’s unrecognisable. When it drops, the beat is coarse and muffled, like a rave experienced by someone with tinnitus.
Stott’s confidence in his new direction falters in places, and Luxury Problems contains frequent callbacks to his stark, distorted house material. ‘Expecting’ is eight minutes of clinking metal, air traffic drones, and a slow, scraping beat like someone’s put people in chains and then got them high. ‘Up the Box’ goes even deeper, starting with strange tearing sounds before moving on to crashes and the hiss of a gas fire. Although the majority of these moments are softened by Skidmore’s vocals, in isolation they seem odd, at times the two elements feeling so vastly different it’s like you’re listening to a mashup. The voices on ‘Sleepless’ get completely buried by slow beats and organic, insect-like fidgeting, almost derivative of the Modern Love roster.
Luckily most of Luxury Problems is more organic, with the shrill vocals/club bass of ‘Leaving’ reinforcing Stott’s reputation as one of the most interesting electronic producers working today. When his thuds and vocalist align it’s an extraordinary thing; a stepping-stone to somewhere unique that might have worked better as an EP of vocal-only tracks (it certainly would have formed a perfect trilogy with last year’s envelope-pushing releases). As it is Luxury Problems is a shift in a new direction that’s not quite bold enough to make the jump in full, but still loaded with incredible ideas.
7George Bass's Score