Jon Hopkins is playing God. That much is clear as soon as “Singularity,” the lead and title song on his first album since 2013’s Mercury Prize-nominated Immunity, shivers into being. A ferrous wasteland of synthesizer overhung by evaporated strings and guitar merge into a remarkably complete sonic landscape — the land and sky of a new world, with its own alien physics, its own genesis and apocalypse. Hopkins keeps hanging these strange planets in wobbly orbits throughout Singularity, forming a universe that pulses with deep consciousness and a sense of endless discovery.
Hopkins was known as a hired hand for Coldplay, Brian Eno, and Imogen Heap, with a sideline in tasteful IDM records until Immunity promoted him to noted techno auteur. Like that breakthrough, Singularity is a beat-music odyssey pitched between acid house and introspective ambient bliss, constant change and eternal return, sublunary and sublime. It also combines many other opposites into thrillingly unstable wholes. The producer’s distinctive techno is coarse and granular, as if electricity were a solid you could grind in a mill, yet it flows in a graceful stream. It squelches like muck and shines like crystal. It beats like a body, but it moves like a mind.
Singularity begins with a three-song voyage through a realm that’s recognizable from Immunity epic “Open Eye Signal,” one where much of the rhythm occurs in negative space. For a techno producer, Hopkins has a counterintuitive way of treating sound as something huge and immobile, then scything crop circles into those heavy frequencies to create a sense of motion. His beats are blanks, and his tracks feel unbound from the metronome. “Emerald Rush” climbs a ladder of Laraaji-like arpeggios and mountainous chord changes to some hidden summit of consciousness. The track features additional drum programming by Clark, another tailor of the fabric of spacetime—something Hopkins turns inside out at the drop on “Neon Pattern Drum.”
This is the kind of album that could only be realized by an expert technician and holistic composer, but Hopkins’ taste for popular music is also apparent. Even his most arcane compositions, like the sideways wobble of “C O S M,” are generous with melody. He taps into something distinctly spiritual and medicinal on Singularity, an urge to transform and heal through a trancelike ritual fusing techno with pop. That quality goes deeper than some meditation-tape song titles (”Everything Connected,” “Feel First Life,” “Luminous Beings”) and a couple of new age piano pieces.
Hopkins recently told The New Yorker that Singularity capped a period of seeking in his life, a time when he devoted himself to “desert treks, controlled breathing, [and] freezing baths.” He bottled that intensity in grooves that heave themselves into being, discovering their forms moment by moment. The songs here are about 75 percent build and 25 percent release, which is gripping, faintly exhausting, and, if you’re ready to go there, transcendent. Hopkins seems to model his music on the infinite cycles of destruction and rebirth that power the universe—but we, too, are part of the scheme. Singularity is ultimately grounded in the personal, not the cosmic, which is what makes this head music so rich.
|B1||Neon Pattern Drum||6:07|
|C1||Feel First Life||5:34|
|C2||C O S M||7:09|