Jon Hopkins is a respected keyboardist and sonic technician who instills ambient music and acidic techno with a classical sense of composition, but he tends to work around the edges of things: He got started backing Imogen Heap. He’s played keyboards for Brian Eno, a clear influence, on albums such as Small Craft on a Milk Sea. Tagging along with Eno, he wound up co-producing and performing on Coldplay’s fourth album. He also created subtle electro-acoustic atmospheres for the Scottish singer/songwriter King Creosote on the exquisite Diamond Mine EP, and crafted an acclaimed string-based score for the British sci-fi film Monsters. It’s not a shabby CV, but it’s not quite a name-making one, either.
This habit of putting himself on the periphery seeped into his own albums– until now. Insides from 2009 was impressive but felt faintly impersonal, streaming by like dazzling but disconnected vignettes in a film. But Hopkins’ breakthrough fourth album, Immunity, bounds and writhes with its own life force. It’s looser and oilier, more limber and dangerous. The aggressive dance tracks darkly obliterate everything else, while the wet and sunny piano-ambient ones wash out into the sounds of wind, waves, and gulls. The latter is impeccably done on “Sun Harmonics”, where the boundary between electronics and coastal recordings dissolves.
Lots of electronic music creates its own hermetic world, but on Immunity, Hopkins finds ingenious ways to let the world in. He created the album’s warm, alive feel by shunning digital perfection in favor of the analog synthesis of original sounds, both electronic and physical. The ambient prelude of the haunting, scrambled glitch-house opener “We Disappear”– a key unlocks the door of Hopkins’ London studio and his footsteps lead in– is more than idle window dressing: He is ushering us into the tactile space that suffuses the record. He drums on desks, plays salt shakers, slows down serendipitous recordings of nearby fireworks, boosts the kick-drummed rattle of a window. On “Form By Firelight”, which sounds like Kanye West’s “Runaway” remixed by Wolfgang Voigt, Hopkins processes beats and melodies right out of the piano, tapping the pedals and striking the strings. Spacious, with carefully shaped resonance, its delay-flickered counterpoint shows off Hopkins’ classical background.
This emphasis on our admission to a physical space naturally makes us feel like we have privileged access to Hopkins’ private emotional space as well. Immunity is said to be inspired by the arc of a night out, and whether or not that matters to the listener, it gives the album a holistic pace and flow, from heroically hurtling along on molten bass synthesziers to hovering gorgeously on gathering ambient breezes. Around the monstrous dancefloor anthems “Open Eye Signal” and “Collider”– the first oozing forward in anticipation, the second climactically crashing down at sharp threshing angles– there is the lyrical ambient landscape of “Abandon Window” and the cunning merger of both styles in “Breathe This Air”. The title track, with a trickle of legato piano turning a rickety rhythm, brings back King Creosote to add discreet vocal colors for a dreamlike conclusion. It all adds up to a remarkably visceral, sensual, confident electronic record that stays absorbing from beginning to end, and should finally catapult Hopkins to stardom in his own story.