Andy Stott Andy StottLuxury Problems
At this point, it's still unclear if “Passed Me By” and “We Stay Together” were two EPs that later became a complete album on CD (the reissue featured a few extra tracks for added value), or two short albums condensed in a very short period of time. What is clear, however, and indisputable, is that those supposed EPs, twin siblings both in appearance and in sound, were worth every penny of their rather elevated price. Engaging in conversation with Actress in the emerging confection of a new kind of techno, Andy Stott slowed his sound down considerably, giving it a viscous texture, with a move that was radical in what had been going on until then in experimental club music, horizontal in its hierarchy, as if swept along by the mud, on the most esoteric side of things. As has been said before, Stott's contribution to this century's techno wasn't exactly the abstract geometry covered with fog of Actress, but the incorporation of the lethargic sound of screwed & chopped hip-hop taken to the 4x4 beat, which then came to sound as if under the influence of a strong dose of codeine.
Though there have been some attempts at imitation this year, this sound is Andy Stott's, and Andy Stott's alone. The Mancunian managed to escape his own routine (techno of the Detroit school, nocturnal and gloomy, very similar to Claro Intelecto, on 2006's “Merciless”, with some piano arrangements here and there), and to finally combine his roots with his exploratory manoeuvres in other fields, especially all the dubstep and pulsating techno singles he released as Andrea. With his production rules established, Stott's big responsibility was to not get stuck in procedures that would lead to routine again, which is why “Luxury Problems” is especially important an album for him, as he had to go further down the investigative path he took on his 2011 diptych, without repeating himself too clearly. And that, even though it seems impossible, is exactly what he achieves: many of the eight cuts on the album (proper this time, on double vinyl and 45 minutes long) share the muddy slowness of “Passed Me By”; in that sense, there's no drastic change but a logical progression. “Hatch The Plan”, “Numb” and “Lost And Found”, for instance, are pieces that move stumbling or with their bellies close to the ground through the dirtiest areas of modern techno. The novelty lies in how Andy Stott, who knows he's back on lethargic ground, manages to embellish a kind of music that, after all the fine-tuning, started to become obvious, with some new arrangements.
The trick was working with Alison Skidmore on five of the eight songs. Skidmore, as word has it, was Andy's piano teacher during his teens, and after finishing his studies (the typical arrangement between the private teacher and the parents of a young aspiring musician) their paths didn't cross again, until they met by coincidence. It ended up in a strange collaboration, in which the student hardly plays the piano, and the teacher, instead of playing, sings. Alison sings in the lower registers (at first listen, she sounds like a contralto, though maybe she's a heavily post-produced mezzo), which in the context of the album sounds like a contemporary opera digression, like Britten or Strauss, a very twisted take on the Detroit canon. If seen as such, “Luxury Problems” is a triumph: Stott managed to go even further into the unknown, and planted his flag on unexplored territory, sometimes recognisable as techno ( “Sleepless” leans on a plump bass line, a beat that that stretches insistently, and a set of voices that switches between the high pitch of the rave diva and the lower registers in the vein of Theo Parrish), and always constantly in the margins of techno itself ( “Expecting” is an isolationist exercise, formed from ice layers, and with a metallic texture that, little by little, cleans itself of the rust and sadness, to conclude in a minute of clean dub, a conquest of beauty after seven minutes of battling against the semi-darkness).
Beyond that, “Luxury Problems” offers even more surprises. One of them is the almost trip-hop-like paleness of “Hatch The Plan”, which suggests that, if there is a new step in that direction, it will be in search of something close to pop and melancholy. Even the title track seems to desperately look for a glimmer of light in order to unblock a euphoria that doesn't arrive in the end, or, better said, comes one track later, in the chaotic mixture of accelerated breaks of “Up The Box”, which uses the same muffled, screwed and mouldy system to give an aesthetic twist to drum’n’bass. And as a decisive sign, the final piece, “Leaving”, goes up to the heavens beatifically, with ethereal vocals (Alison Skidmore as Julee Cruise), cosmic bass lines, and synths that, finally, want to leave the dirty worldliness behind and pursue the ineffable. And so, “Luxury Problems”, an autonomous and talented effort, also serves as the perfect finish to a trilogy in which Andy Stott turned techno around showing new and unexpected things can still be done, something as simple as diving into the pool (like the girl on the sleeve) without fear and confident that there is water down there.